An unused gallery on the fifth floor of the Nebraska Capitol will become a visitor center and museum

LINCOLN, Nebraska (Nebraska Examiner) – High inside the Rotunda of the Nebraska State Capitol is an unused gallery where you can get a bird’s eye view of the beautiful artwork in the dome and murals in the hallways of the building.

Current and former state senators joined Thursday in publicity for a $3.9 million project to turn a now-vacant fifth floor into a visitor center with displays about the state government and the historic Capitol.

popular place

“This could become one of the most popular viewing spots in the building and a place of learning,” said former state senator Dave Pankonin of Louisville.

The Capitol’s fifth-floor gallery offers stunning views (Courtesy of State Senator Robert Clements).

He joined current Senate Robert Clements of Elmwood in pushing for the passage of Clements’s Bill 812, which would use $3.9 million of the state’s vast cash reserves to renovate the facility as part of ongoing ’91 renovations. old Capitol.

In the original plans

The fifth floor space was originally intended for visitors by Capitol architect Bertram Goodhue, but has not been used for nearly four decades.

Clements, who chairs the Legislative Assembly’s budgeting committee, the Appropriations Committee, said he was approached by an organization of former state legislators that Pankonin was a member of with the idea of ​​renovating the dormant gallery.

In his original plans for the Capitol, Goodhue envisioned the fifth-floor gallery as a place where the public could better view the artwork in the building—art that explained the history of the state and democratic government.

State Senator Robert Clements of Elmwood (Courtesy of the Unicameral Information Office)

Clements, a history buff, said there is no place in the State Capitol that explains the origins of the building’s unique skyscraper designation as a National Historic Landmark or the state’s three branches of government: the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. .

“Big Space”

“This is what we all say to our fourth graders,” the senator said, referring to the thousands of high schoolers who visit the Capitol every year.

“There’s plenty of room here,” Clements added, “on the fifth floor.

In the past, the area has been intermittently used as government offices, but not since at least 1986.

Closed to the public now

The entrance to the public was closed for security reasons – there are no railings between the marble columns surrounding the Rotunda. Non-reflective glass partitions will be placed between the columns as part of the renovation plan.

The columns, visible high in the Capitol Rotunda, mark the now unused fifth floor of the State Capitol. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

Dan Worth and Mark Bacon of BVH Architecture told members of the appropriations committee that the space needed a lot of work. The paint on the walls is cracking and peeling, the lead paint needs to be removed, the windows are in need of repair, and the floor is uneven. To make it accessible to people with disabilities, a floor with a gentle slope is required.

The plan provided by the firm will also install fire and security systems, as well as state-of-the-art heating and air conditioning systems, which are currently the focus of a long-term renovation project at the State Capitol.

Sarah Kay, of the American Institute of Architects in Nebraska, said the US Capitol has a similar visitor center that is part of its Rotunda.

“We would be very happy if this gallery plan came to fruition,” Kay said.

Completed as part of ongoing restoration work

Clements said money could be saved by refurbishing the fifth floor as part of the Capitol’s restoration and heating/air conditioning upgrade project now underway.

Nebraska State Capitol (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

The Appropriations Committee has taken no action on LB 812 since Thursday’s public hearing, but the committee will begin drawing up the state budget for the next two fiscal years in a week.

Clements said he hopes to include some funding for work on the fifth floor in the hope that private funds can be raised to contribute to the project. According to him, funds will not be needed until 2025.

State Capitol Trust Fund

Coincidentally, on Thursday, the Appropriations Committee heard a proposal inspired by the Association of Former Nebraska Legislators to create a trust fund to “preserve, restore, and improve the Capitol Yards.”

Retired lawmakers raised $1.4 million to improve four courtyards at the State Capitol after installing decorative fountains.

Former state senator Kurt Broome said about $900,000 of those funds remained, and that placing them in the state’s investment fund would lower fees and ensure that the maximum amount of donations used to help the state capitol.

The Nebraska Examiner is part of Newsroom States, a network of newsrooms supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. The Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. For questions, please contact editor Keith Folsom: [email protected] Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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