Capital city residents and visitors to Jefferson City received their first glimpse of a rare sight just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. For the first time in more than two years, Missouri’s Capitol Building was clearly visible, without scaffolding or a construction fence blocking the view. A $30 million restoration of the century-old Statehouse is nearing completion, with only a few clean-up details and final inspections remaining.
“We’re essentially done,” says Michael Qutami, of Missouri’s Office of Administration, who oversaw the project that began in March 2018. “We may need a couple of weeks for ‘punch list’ items, but everything will be back to normal, with the circle drive around the Capitol open by the middle of December.”
Built in 1917, Missouri’s Capitol is the jewel of Jefferson City, and has dominated the city’s landscape for more than a century. Perched high above the Missouri River, it’s the first thing visitors see when arriving from the north and stands proudly as the tallest building in the capital city.
During much of the past 30 months, the Capitol’s majestic beauty has been hidden from view. Sprawling scaffolding encased in protective plastic sheeting obscured the exterior as construction crews inched their way around the building. Strong winds occasionally ripped the wrapping that shielded the building from the elements, but an F3 tornado in 2019 left the Statehouse unscathed, despite destroying stately Capitol Ave. mansions six blocks away.
Restoration of the Capitol actually began in 2016, with a Phase I project to repair the imposing stairs on the building’s south side. Phase II, the detailed restoration of the Capitol’s limestone marble exterior concludes with a formal walk-through inspection. The project was approved by the Legislature in 2014 and the state issued bonds to pay for the two phases of restoration. The $30 million budgeted for the stonework is roughly 10 times the original cost of the building, which was constructed for $3.5 million after a fire destroyed the previous Capitol. “I know $30 million sounds like a lot, but we got a lot done for the money,” project supervisor Qutami says.
The work was extensive and painstaking. Spearheaded by Chicago-based Bulley and Andrews Masonry Restoration, the project involved inspection and cleaning of 170,000 square feet of exterior surfaces, complete waterproofing and “Dutchman” repairs to 4,520 exterior stones. As a testament to the original builders, fewer than 8% of the stones required replacement. The work consumed 4.5 million pounds of material, as workers ground and tucked the equivalent of 58 miles of masonry joints.
In addition to sealing the building from the elements and restoring the gleaming exterior, the project addressed structural faults caused by 103 years of rain, snow, ice and wind. The slender lantern above the dome needed particular attention. Nearly all of the original stonework in that section required replacement. While the stonework was being done, the precious artwork on the building’s exterior also received attention. The 10-foot-tall statute of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture standing watch above the dome, underwent a complete facelift at a Chicago restoration facility. Two giant allegorical figures, representing Missouri’s two great rivers, were also cleaned and restored, as was an iconic statue of Thomas Jefferson. The dome received new energy-efficient exterior lighting, proving an added benefit of allowing the illumination to change hues in honor of special occasions.
While some of the work could be considered cosmetic, the primary motivation for the project was preservation of the structure itself. Although the building has been well-maintained throughout its life, time and the elements had begun to extract a toll.
“We had serious problems from water leaking into the building and damaging the structure and interior. There was a century’s worth of erosion to the exterior stone and masonry, and all of this needed to be addressed,” said Senate Administrator Patrick Baker, who currently serves as chairman of the Missouri State Capitol Commission, a committee of state and legislative leaders responsible for the preservation of Missouri’s Statehouse. “Our Capitol building is one of Missouri’s most precious treasures. If we expect it to last another century or more, we have to take care of it.”
As the showpiece of Missouri’s state government building complex, the Capitol houses the chambers of Missouri’s Senate and House of Representatives and legislators’ offices, as well as the executive offices of the governor, lieutenant governor and other statewide elected officials. The building also is home to the Missouri State Museum and an impressive collection of artwork commissioned after sales of bonds for the building’s original construction raised more money than anticipated.
With the exterior of the building addressed, Commission Chairman Baker says a more daunting challenge lies ahead. The interior of the Capitol also desperately needs attention, he says. The current patchwork of mechanical systems does not adequately condition the air in the building and some of the precious artwork has suffered damage. There is also the challenge of space, as legislators – particularly those serving in the House of Representatives – are tightly packed into small offices. Several different proposals have been put forward to expand the Capitol facilities in the future, but those improvements remain stalled in the concept stage, for now. In the meantime, visitors to the Capitol can take pride in the thorough restoration of the building’s exterior recently completed.
“Our Capitol building is a testament to the people of our state, and it is easily the most-visited site in Jefferson City,” said State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, who serves the 6th Senatorial District, which includes the capital city. “The on-going restoration project has made it a bit more difficult for Missourians to visit their State Capitol in recent months, but the beauty of the building’s interior made the effort worthwhile. It will be even more enjoyable now that the construction zone is gone and visitors can clearly see and enjoy the Capitol’s impressive exterior.”
The recently completed repairs ensure Missouri’s Capitol building will continue to wow visitors and inspire lawmakers for generations to come. They also provide a much-needed lease on life for a building that reflects the pride of those who first built it more than a century ago.
“It really is a magnificent building,” said Qutami, who has shepherded the restoration project from beginning to end. “It’s held up really well. These timely repairs will preserve it for decades to come so Missourians can continue to use and enjoy it.”