The view from a sixth-floor conference room at the Stratton Building on a cold January afternoon was clear. Progress was being made on one of the most ambitious renovation projects at the Illinois State Capitol.
A big hole in what was a parking lot to the north of the building adjacent to Monroe Street and the construction associated with it has led to road closures along the busy throughway to downtown Springfield. In addition, the northern part of the Capitol has been closed, forcing the state Senate to relocate to the Howlett Building while construction continues around their chamber.
The work that began in July is going according to plans according to Capitol Architect Andrea Aggertt, who oversees the Capitol renovations. The $225 million project funded by the state’s Rebuild Illinois initiative will update facilities on the north wing of the statehouse while also building more parking underneath the Stratton Building.
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“The goals and objectives of the north wing are very similar to what was done in the west wing in 2011-13,” Aggertt said. “Some of the areas that we’re going to improve upon are life-safety; code upgrades for a building built many decades ago that didn’t have the same codes that were built currently.”
Safety systems upgraded
For instance, portions of the west half are not covered by fire sprinklers. Without the renovations, Aggertt said any kind of fire in the Senate wing could be disastrous.
“If we have some type of catastrophic event, it would be horrible for the state Capitol building,” Aggertt said. “We would not have a fire suppression system that would put that out. A building like that is just not replaceable.”
Along with new sprinklers come a new fire alarm system, which Aggertt said would benefit the visually and auditorily impaired, and new security measures to ensure that employees can feel safe while working that the Capitol.
“We determined that the north drive was allowing cars to park a little bit too close to the building, so not only are we relocating or removing those cars from the north drive, but making sure we have lockdown procedures (and) restricted access in some areas in the event there would be an incident,” Aggertt said.
A new entrance
A new entrance is also being built below the north lawn to allow the public better access inside the Capitol for visits and advocacy.
“(It) will really help the public and visitors navigate the Capitol,” Aggertt said. “We’ll have a drop-off on Monroe for buses, rally groups, student tourists or even a spouse dropping a significant other off. It’s an area that will be able to screen visitors prior to entering the Capitol proper, which goes back to that safety and security (element). (We’re) making sure that we keep visitors, employees, and members safe.”
In addition, the new entrance will be more accessible and built to Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
“The state made a promise to the federal Department of Justice that we would work on making our statehouse fully accessible,” Aggertt said. “That promise was made many years ago, and we’re just continuing to work on that promise statement. That means that 60% of the entrances to the Capitol need to be accessible to someone who uses a wheelchair, a walker, a cane.
Unfortunately, as we stand today, only one entrance is accessible. The new north entrance will completely be accessible.”
Making repairs, preserving history
The north wing of the building dates back to the 1860s, shortly after the end of the Civil War, and maintenance of key systems such as the plumbing and HVAC systems is a constant struggle.
“You have to address the pipes so they don’t leak (and) the HVAC equipment so it runs efficiently,” Aggertt said. “Those are all in very dire need (of repairs) in our north wing. Some of the infrastructure is 10-15 years beyond its life expectancy, so we literally limp those systems along, making daily repairs and responding to emergencies rather than trying to maintain a good working system.”
Even with the need for modernization, Aggertt said that there’s plenty of room for returning the historic nature of the facility, in much the same way that the west end was refurbished a decade ago. She said that some of the mezzanines installed during prior renovations in the 1960s will be taken out in order to restore the historic charm of the building.
“Somebody thought it would be a great idea to get additional square footage within (the) Capitol proper and essentially bisect a room, put an additional floor in there and we’ve completely destroyed the fabric (and) the historic context of those rooms,” Aggertt said. “While it reduces the square footage in that north wing, we’ll be removing those mezzanines.”
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More space to park
Underground, the parking garage is designed to be a replacement for the north drive of the Capitol, which had 110 spaces for state employees. The garage will have space for 440 cars along with electric vehicle charging stations and room to add chargers. It will also be connected to the Stratton Building and the Capitol through an underground conference space that will also be home to space for rallies and a cafe for guests and employees.
While Aggertt said the need for more parking — for employees and the public — the need to beautify and add green space around the state government area is a major reason for the new garage.
“It’s our response to get more and more green space on the Capitol complex,” Aggertt said. “If we can move parking underground, then someday when the Stratton Building comes down, then we will have entirely green space here. This is the first step.”
What happens to the Stratton Building?
The age and condition of the Stratton Building have been subjects of debate over several decades and while there are no set plans to demolish the building, Aggertt said, there likely will come a time when the building is no longer needed.
“We have a good plan as to what’s going to happen on this complex in the next five all the way up to 50 years,” Aggertt said. “I can state that the Stratton Building’s not here for long, but it will be here until additional funding is given to build a replacement.”
When will the work be finished?
The parking garage should be completed by the fall, with final completion of the full Capitol project planned for 2025. The Senate will be back in chambers by January of that year, with the finishing touches in the spring or summer of 2025.
Until then, it’s continued digging, pouring and excavating. So far, Aggertt said, the only major snags came with a pair of structural trusses that couldn’t be removed requiring all of the renovations work around the load-bearing parts.
“It just goes to show that having documentation of a building is so important,” Aggertt said. “We’re working around the trusses; they’re going to stay (and) we’re not going to take them out. We think we have figured out what they’re holding up. We’re not about to cut them out.”
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February 13, 2023 at 06:52AM