Construction on the Capitol dome
A dome restoration is in progress at the Nebraska State Capitol. Photo by: Savannah Hamm/ NNS

The Nebraska Capitol is undergoing a 20-week-long restoration process expected to be completed by mid-November. The project is the second restoration effort since the Capitol was built in 1922.

The exterior of the building, excluding the dome, was repaired from 1998 to 2010 as part of the Capitol Masonry and Reroute project. However, the caulking is not the same durability that it was 40 years ago. A few ingredients in the old caulking were removed from the product, which weakened the durability of the sealants. This issue, along with shifting gold plates on the dome, were some of the reasons for the current restoration project.

“We knew where the sealant joints were on the dome, and we know where they are on the face of the tower,” Capitol Building Administrator Bob Ripley said. “So, we wanted to get up and look at those, as well.” 

Ripley hired Vertical Access, to collect drone imaging of the dome and inspect the exterior, allowing them to look at the joints to the best of their ability.

After seeing the report, Ripley decided it was time to do repair work on the Capitol’s exterior.

“What we need to do on the building to make sure it lasts really well is just maintain the tuckpointing (joints) between the limestone blocks, so that it stays strong,” said Roxanne Smith, tourism supervisor and public information officer at the Capitol.

The current project focuses on maintaining the joints to keep the exterior watertight.

The Capitol’s restoration process was delayed by the pandemic. Ripley and his team put temporary “bandaids” on the dome including a 60-inch-wide rubber tape over joints to keep them sealed over the winter.

“We knew there were tiles that were loose, we knew there were sealant joints that were missing, and then water can get into that joint and get behind the masonry, the gold tiles on the base of the dome, and they were becoming loose,” Ripley said. 

Ripley bid on the $1.25 million project earlier this year, and work began in late July. Mark 1 Restoration, the same company that worked on the Capitol in the 1998-2010 project began repairing the limestone, the political face of the tower.  They will soon begin work on the dome.

“We were very fortunate to get such experienced contractors to bid it and then to get the contractor who had already done work for 12 years on the outside base of the building,” Ripley said.

The project is two thirds of the way done. While they are working on the dome, the general public cannot go out onto the observation decks. They can still go to the 14th floor and look out of the windows, but cannot exit the building due to safety precautions.