Major Building Renovations Needed At State Capitol

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — The roof is leaking, and the furnace needs replacing. It’s a common lament for thousands of Minnesota homeowners.

But it’s happening at Minnesota’s biggest house, the State Capitol. At more than a century old, Minnesota’s most visible landmark has seen better days.

Several years of patch-up repairs won’t work anymore.

That’s why there’s a plan in the works for a massive overhaul that could actually force everyone to move out and close the Capitol for years.

There’s a leaky dome, heavy water damage and pieces of the building are literally falling off.

“Last session we had canopies over the doorways,” said Rep. Dean Urdahl, (R) Litchfield. “So that if rocks fell down they wouldn’t hit us on the head.”

Urdahl is helping lead a massive renovation of the 105 year-old Capitol, which he said is at a tipping point.

“We have leaky roofs, leaky pipes, our beautiful murals and paintings are water-stained. What does that say about us as a state?” he asks.

When it was completed in 1905, Minnesota’s Capitol was a classic of modern design. But nowadays, miles of wires are exposed in open ceilings.

The hallways are cramped, there are accessibility problems and fire safety concerns. Even the historic chandelier is down for cleaning and repair.

A high-level Capitol renovation committee is making far reaching plans for the outdated ventilation and heating systems, wiring and plumbing.

It’s an extreme makeover that will force the governor and legislature to vacate the building for years.

“It’s going to be a major, major disruption,” said Mark Dayton, the first-year Democratic governor. “You liken it to maybe an interstate highway project that takes three four five years. It’s major disruption and dysfunction.”

Built for $4.5 million, the price tag to build the same State Capitol today would be $1 billion. The renovation would cost up to $300 million, staged over 10 years.

Much of the work that is planned is out of public view: Heating and ventilation systems, extensive wiring updates and plumbing.

It would be by far the most extensive renovation in more than a century. The people behind it will say when the renovation is complete it will last for 100 years.

“This is the people’s building,” said Urdahl. “This is the most important building that the people own in the state of Minnesota. And if we can’t maintain the people’s building as a symbol of the state, then I think we are in a pretty sad state of affairs.”

More from Pat Kessler
  • A Voter

    I’d rather see the State Capitol building rebuilt than a new football stadium.

    • M

      I would agree with that.

    • Mary Lehan


  • Ines Beag

    It would be cheaper than a new stadium. Wait what!!!!

  • Jake

    Roh Roh, I think that we have a major problem here, and the problem is that we don’t know how to PRIORITIZE projects. WHY is this article appearing RIGHT NOW?? Why not 6 months ago?? I thought that we had to help a BILLIONAIRE with his NEW, SPANKING, STATE OF THE ART FOOTBALL STADIUM, and NOW, it’s about the Capitol Building?? Make up your minds, people, SERIOUSLY. You can’t have EVERYTHING, you have to make CHOICES, so decide, amongst your peabrains, which is more important. What about the Stillwater bridge?? What about finishing a *50* year old Hwy 610 highway project, when Bloomington or Eden Prairie or Minnetonka can get a highway or an interchange rebuilt within 5 stinking years??

  • Caitlin Prodoehl

    Defineately agree with voter should redo the capitol before we ever think of a new stadium for a football team who doesnt produce results.

  • Rachel Eggert

    I do work there during session.. I am wondering where would my coworkers and I go if they shut the building. As years pass on as long I have been there, they have been doing work on the building. One time Senate had to recess because water was leaking through glass window.

    • A Voter

      You could work in the Metrodome, the Vikings are going to LA anyway.
      They can put the speakers podium over home plate.

    • Jake

      Read my earlier response, then read this one: sniff, sniff…… Then tell me about all of the welfare fraud that’s going on the state, and the fact that SO MANY don’t have the BACKBONE to deal with it. PRIORITIES…….

  • Sven

    This is a union payback.

    Hopefully they’ll get rid of that tacky gold sculpture that sits on top.

    • Huh?


  • Swamp Fox

    Well, MN Capitol watchers, after nearly ten years of repeated legislative and gubernatorial procrastinations the MN State Capitol Bldg is news again. This time the news is very serious. Minnesota’s State Capitol is in poor shape after its first hundred years and here again it’s all talk and no fixing up yet the peoples’ capitol building.

    The Vikings stadium issue has nothing to do with the band-aid, bubblegum, and bailing wire approach the MN Legislatures and preceding T-Pawl have applied to recommendations for major repairs or renovations.

    Typical MN procrastination runs rampant again and the excuses and blame ranting fly as usual in St.Paul. It’s time for this state to shape-up, roll-up its proverbial sleeves and start fixing this state and its Capitol Building. Where is that MN ingenuity, hardiness, and progressiveness that Minnesota is noted for?

    Don’t start screaming stadium politics, party politics, or money politics. When was the last time you voted for honest legislators who would improve Minnesota’s quality of life, infrastructure, or improve the way government works without arguing inane arcane party politics?

    When are Minnesotans going to get government that isn’t is in gridlock and will make the tough decisions that will elevate this state on the tracks to economic recovery? When are Minnesotans, especially the legislators in power going to govern wisely and effectively to think beyond their selfishness and think of the 5 million plus Minnesotans who want a quality of life that reflects this state’s image. When are those in power going to wholesome balance the budget, raise the necessary revenues fairly, and fix the problems that face this state?

    Repairing the Capitol Building reflects the present condition of this state. If the Capitol Building is falling apart and deteriorating then likewise isn’t this state doing the same? Think about it?

    • Meh

      We’re just about evenly divided in this state, and nationally, between those who believe government should be in on the solution and those who believe that government is part of the problem. Raise just about any issue and you’re going to find people on either side of that fissure who are going to want to address the issue differently. The “inane, arcane” party politics you cite are neither inane nor arcane: they emerge from diametrically opposed philosophies of government, and when interpreted as manifestations of those philosophies they are perfectly transparent.

      You tell us that our government needs to start making tough decisions. Decisions, and most especially tough decisions, require a consensus that just isn’t there locally or nationally. You demand wise and effective governance as if we all think the same thing when we hear “wise and effective government”, as if diametrically opposed philosophies of government don’t lead to diametrically opposed notions of what constitutes wise and effective government. You talk about balancing the budget, raising necessary revenues, and fixing problems as if diametrically opposed philosophies of government don’t embrace ways of balancing budgets and raising revenues and fixing problems that are often diametrically opposed.

      This is just empty rhetoric you’re putting out there. It’s politician-speak. It’s a bunch of grand-sounding platitudes that offer nothing by way of solving anything. These are facile, sound-bite “solutions” to complex issues that, because of our differing philosophies of government, are made intractable.

      • Bearpath

        Since when would regularly maintaining a building that the state spent an enormous amount of money to build, be considered a tough decision that should have anything to do with politics?? The fact that our infrastructure is in such terrible condition is a product of consistent passing of the buck, and shortsightedness. When it was built, the capitol was a giant fiscal investment that has been allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair, that it’s just embarrassing.
        It’s not the citizens job to make sure that such things are maintained. Most people who would walk into the capitol, and think that it looks just fine. When in fact, chunks of stone are falling from above! Same with the 35w bridge. No one (so too speak) knew it was about to fail, yet we were blissfully ignorant of the fact that it was about to. Having that blissfull ignorance is how it SHOULD be, but the infrastructure should be MAINTAINED! Thats the job of the state/fed goverment. Should we have to pull over to the side of the road before crossing a bridge, and inspect it ourselves to feel as though we insuring our own safety? Shouldn’t have to, but maybe thats where this current philosophy of “kick the can down the road” is bringing us.

      • Swamp Fox

        OK, you had you just had your 2-cents to the discussion and your ‘ersatz’ platitudes to the discussion now what are the specifics to what you just commented. Are you implying that there are no fixes? Are you saying that folks can’t work together? Where is the positive side to what you espouse? Let’s hear it! I am curious to know and find out what solutions or platitudes you want to apply to the issues at hand without criticisms…..

  • MrBB

    I think you could save a boat load of tax payer money and close the capitol. All you state reps can work from home on your laptops, you can do all your voting online, have all your commitee meetings online, save a boat load of per diem charges you get payed for doing nothing but sitting on your rear ends at the capitol. Then build the stadium because it would have an actual impact on the economy, can’t say you reps have an impact on the economy!!

  • insignificant

    capitol buildings…how ’bout moving on from roman architecture,eh?…build a new one outta block,brick,and wood…too costly for building stones these days…too much spendy decor ,also…don’t need any of it…ya make yer law makers too comfee so they can get very little done anyways for the state…

  • Stop the waste

    Why didn’t anybody bring this up 10 years ago when we had a $5 billion surplus?

    • Swamp Fox

      @Stop the….
      It was brought up ten years ago but only Capitol maintenance expenditures were considered in the Legislature. Major renovation legislation was tabled for “further study”. More time and money wasted on “further Studies”! T-Pawl and company had other plans.

  • jimmy

    Why not just meet in January and kick the can down the road 5 years instead of 2. At least then for 5 years work would get done in the capital.

  • Bearpath

    Wow, lots of good points on this, and no political jabs! Very refreshing!
    The Capitol building is the most visible of the many state owned buildings that are falling to pieces. The state has essentially done nothing to maintain these buildings. When structures are built using antiquated designs, no matter how “modern” the mechanicals are, they are inherently maintainance nightmares. For example, the dome is not technically waterproof. Their is actually 3 domes (outer, intermediate, and the visible inner one, and “work” together to channel water away. That’s the same way domed building were constructed in ancient Rome! Yeah, the Romans were innovative, but I dont think they were considering the harsh Minnesota winters while developing these building techniques. Constant, and costly maintainance would have been required to keep the dome ( and the rest of the building) in good condition, and that has not ever been done routinely. Incredibly short sited and irresponsible!
    The governors mansion is another example. The state didn’t build this one (inherited it), but people who are aware of its condition would never consider spending the night in it (let alone live in it!) for fear of it catching fire! The wiring is extremely old and dangerous, the foundation is crumbling, and the rest of the mechanicals are in dire need of repair. Basically, the state is at a point where they are crossing their fingers, and hoping that it doesn’t catch fire and burn down before they are allowed to sell it (a stipulation in the donation of the mansion prevents this from happening for a few more years). Imagine how that would look on the front page if the mansion caught fire, burned down, and god forbid, someone was hurt or killed! Seems like their is a lot of finger crossing, procrastinating, and selfishness gong on. Sounds like my 5 year old!
    Who’s going to step up, and change this attitude in government???

  • What priorities?

    Priorities. Yup. We don’t seem to have any elected officials that can deal with establishing priorities.

    Let’s see, we have eight schools in the Anoka school district who have set up food shelves (without any public funding) because we have people, including children, who don’t have enough to eat.

    We have an education fund that’s short of money because the legislature “thinks” it solved a budget crisis by “borrowing” (yeah, right) money from it.

    We have more potholes in our roads than you can count.

    Our bridges are falling apart right under our vehicles.

    We have thousands of our residents who have lost their jobs and their homes.

    We have a state capital that needs $300 million in renovations.

    And we have a private entertainment business, owned by a billionaire, who wants the state to give him (not loan him, give him) at least $650 million.

    With so many more important things needing funding, we are we even considering a new stadium? Apparently some people think drinking beer at a tailgate party is more important than feeding children who are hungry.

    • Swamp Fox

      Nice comments but get the facts straight. For example:–The stadium issue money is not a grant or even a loan to Zygi but an investment in a people owned venue. Zygi and the Vikings will be paying back the subsidies for the stadium with taxes and user revenues. The overseer of this new venue will be the Met Council Sports Commission and it’s their responsibility to make this venue profitable with bookings etcetera.

      Now as for the Capitol Building renovations and restoration this issue has been kicked around in St.Paul for years. “Further Studies” have been the catch words for procrastination of this major project. The Governor’s Mansion is in the same dire straights and more serious in nature. Now put these issues in the mix of a GOP/T-Bag controlled Legislature that can’t even decide to balance the state budget or decide how much to spend for toilet paper in the Capitol restrooms.

      The DFL is partially the blame for this mess too but with the exception of the Governor no DFL’er has had the MN chutzpah to stand up to the GOP/T-Baggers. The DFL had the chance to get this Capitol project moving but they blew it! It’s seems like their job security was the main issue.

      Former Governor Pawlenty wasn’t a great help on this issue either. He was too busy slicing-&-dicing the state budgets and then running for election for higher office. All the while the state was heading toward economic crises to flounder in a sea of red ink and political chaos.

      So you see everyone had their priorities but not the correct ones. Before we totally blame the politicians, we the citizens are at fault for not telling our legislators; who were voted in office by us; what we felt were important priorities.

      True we have our personal daily life priorities like food, shelter, clothing, and family but beyond those life important issues we feigned ignorance of the issues that affected this state and the MN quality of life. So here again lies the crux of the problems we face with a state government that is floundering in disarray and red ink.

      So what are we the people going to do about this situation? Don’t use the stadium or any other issue as excuses for deeper seated governance and administration issues. We should tell the Governor what we think, then roll-up our proverbial sleeves to help him and the grid-locked Legislature get going to get this state moving again. Do that and the Capitol restoration and renovations will be an accomplishment we all can be proud of.

      • Maybe but not likely

        I agree with most of what you say but I disagree with your claim that Zygi and the Vikings will be paying back the subsidies. Since when has anything even remotely like that ever happened? Have the “investors” been repaid for the Dome? Was anyone repaid for the old Met Stadium? What about Target Field? No, it doesn’t work that way – politicians always find other uses for any of that money, just like Rybak is trying to do right now.

        Once a tax is imposed it never goes away. Ha, how long have we had that “temporary” state sales tax now and how many times has it been increased?

        Maybe I could go along with it if the cost of a new “over the top” stadium was born in direct proportion to the benefits derived from it. The more you benefit from it, the greater percentage of it you have to pay. At least then the argument could be made that “it’s fair.”

        I still wouldn’t support using public money for a stadium but, if it were as clear cut as we put up the money and Zygi and the Vikings pay it back, then why not structure it as a loan, to be repaid with interest over 30 years?


    pawlenty’s fault.

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  • mitch

    I heard this story on ‘cco radio and my first thought was ‘how did so much come into disrepair at the same time?’ They were talking about new plumbing, new electrical, new facade, new roof. How did it get this bad?? Seems like they could have done this in stages over the last 10-15 years. Now they have to spend more and do it all at once??

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