Watch your head.
It's a little tricky getting into the Utah State Capitol right now, what with the chain-link fences, barricades and "Danger: Hard Hats Required" warnings.Utah's 82-year-old flagship building - where the state's laws are made and its chief executive officer does his business - is getting a face lift. Actually, it's a face lift now, and advocates for the historic building hope it will get a total body overhaul soon.
It needs it, and the grand stone stairs that have ushered visitors into the building for decades need help most of all.
"They're definitely in what's called a `failure mode,' " said Richard Byfield, director of the Division of Facilities and Construction Management.
It's actually the structure under the granite stairs that is breaking down. So workers are painstakingly removing the stone, laying out the pieces so they can be replaced in their exact order.
The $1 million stair project is the start of something bigger. "The goal is to rehabilitate the whole building," Byfield said. "But the way that happens will be a matter of funding and timing."
Several things need to happen eventually, Byfield said:
- The building needs to be made seismically safe. It will be placed on rubber base pads that will allow the building to rock back and forth as the ground moves. The huge granite stairs in front are actually a separate structure.
- Water damage must be repaired. Over the years, water has worked its way into some of the building's stone and terra cotta.
- Environmental conditions must be updated for modern use. The building has little technologic infrastructure. And it was built before duct air conditioning, so some of the rooms get quite warm and stuffy.
Preservation of the state's flagship building has become something of a political football.
In 1997, lawmakers passed a bill that would have created a Capitol Preservation Board, but Gov. Mike Leavitt vetoed the bill, saying it gave too much authority to GOP legislators about how space in the Capitol would be used.
In the most recent legislative session, House Speaker Mel Brown and Leavitt went back and forth about a similar bill and finally agreed on a 15-member board so heavy with obvious - and arduous - joint agreement that Brown had to chuckle when updating his colleagues on the subject.
"I think we've finally got consensus," he said.
The governor is chairman of the board.
He is joined by Brown, Lt. Gov. Olene Walker and Senate President Lane Beattie. Three members will be appointed by the governor, two by the Senate and two by the House; in both cases, one each should come from the minority and majority party.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court, director of the Division of Archives, and a governor-appointed architect and struc-tural engineer will round out the board.
The board should be in place by July.
"I'm concerned that things are done well and right," said Jeff Johnson, director of the state archives division. "I'm glad they're working on it."
Founding fathers selected the site overlooking the valley soon after settling the area. But early-day legislators had no money to build a Capitol until the death of railroad magnate E.H. Harriman, whose estate left $798,000 to Utah.
Workers trucked chunks of granite from Little Cottonwood Canyon to the Capitol site, Johnson said, then built up the four-story edifice to its highest point - 285 feet at the top of its copper dome. It was finished in 1916.
The huge granite building represents Utah to visitors and represents state government to the citizens of Utah, Johnson said. "I think it's important (the building) looks good so the citizens know the state's running well."