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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
David Hart tells how plaster cherubs have been stripped of gold spray paint and refinished to look like they were carved from ivory.

Well, at least the fire alarms are ready.

The Utah State Capitol is scheduled to reopen in just over a month, but during a tour Wednesday there still seems to be an endless amount of work to do before government officials can return.

Hundreds of workers throughout the building are painting walls, laying carpet, fixing tiles, installing lights and doing countless other jobs as the fire alarm goes off midafternoon with a piercing sound that permeates the building's granite walls.

David Hart, head of the Capitol Preservation Board that's overseeing the more than $200 million project that began in 2004, just smiles. It's a successful test of one of the many systems that need to be up and running soon.

"We're all pretty nervous about everything right now," Hart said.

It's not the dusty tarps, rolls of carpet yet to be laid, or rooms empty of furnishings that worry him, however. It's whether everything from old-fashioned, glass-walled elevators to high-tech televisions will work after a massive renovation.

"A lot of what you see now is just debris," Hart said, promising cleanup crews are already at work in parts of the building first opened to the public some six decades ago. "It's what you can't see that's the problem."

Electrical and other updates — including that fire alarm system — are hidden behind resurfaced walls and the centerpiece of the project, a series of "shock-absorbers" designed to protect the Capitol in an earthquake, are beneath the multi-ton structure.

But despite his jitters as the Jan. 4 date for the Capitol's re-dedication ceremony nears, Hart said the building will be ready to welcome back Utahns after being closed to the public for nearly four years.

"Parts of it probably won't be complete," Hart said. "For instance, with the snow the landscaping will be tough." And the two pairs of lions that used to grace the east and west entrances won't be replaced with new marble versions until sometime next year.

State workers begin moving in even sooner, on Dec. 4. The real test, Hart said, will be three days later, when the House and Senate are scheduled to move from the west building of the Capitol Complex.

The 2008 Legislature will meet in the Capitol. For the past three years, lawmakers have met in cramped quarters in the west building. Some of their offices in the Capitol, though, now are located in former bathrooms.

By the end of the month, all government officials should be back in the Capitol. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and his staff will be the last to leave, departing from the east building of the complex on Dec. 28.

An open house for the public will be held from Jan. 5-8. What visitors will see when they walk the halls of the Capitol will be new colors and finishes on the walls and floors intended to more accurately replicate the original plans for the building.

There's plenty of real gold leaf in the Gold Room, a reception area next to the governor's office where the plaster cherubs have been stripped of their gold spray paint and painstakingly refinished to look like they were carved from ivory.

The gold and purple fabric specially woven in Italy for the walls, though, has yet to arrive. It's in the same shipment as the gold-colored material that will cover the walls of the governor's office.

The new doorways in the Senate chambers are done, framed in onyx selected to match the existing entryways. It wasn't easy, though. An effort to find large enough slabs in the west desert failed, and the state ended up finding the right stone in Afghanistan.

But, Hart said, no one in Afghanistan could cut the stone. So it was shipped to Verona, Italy, where artisans insisted on waiting for Hart and other state officials to arrive with precise plans before chipping away at the yellow-tinged stone.

In the House chambers, new artwork will be unveiled along the ceiling. Even more dramatic may be the amount of light seeping into that and other parts of the building, much of it thanks to new, clearer glass installed in the skylights.

Some of the corridors, too, are brighter. Hart said the project attempted to restore the original plans that called for big, facing windows on each side of the building not to be blocked by interior walls.

Other historically accurate touches aren't as readily visible, such as the 30 or so seagulls on the rotunda ceiling that have been painted over because they weren't part of the original artwork.

And there will be new additions to the building, too, including four larger-than-life bronze statues that represent key elements of Utah culture: land and community, immigration and settlement, arts and education, and science and technology.

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com