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"The People’s House" is reopened for business

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Visitors look at the new statues, which are allegorical sculptures that represent hope, courage, justice and truth, while touring the Capitol for the first time during the grand reopening on Wednesday, July 10, 2019, in downtown Cheyenne. Renovation and restoration of the 130-year-old Capitol, which is one of only 20 state capitols designated as a National Historic Landmark, took four years and more than $300 million. It was reopened with fanfare to the public on Statehood Day. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Before Wednesday’s grand reopening of the newly renovated state Capitol, one would be forgiven if they didn’t believe the four-year, multi-million-dollar project would result in something spectacular.

So often in life, things just don’t live up to the hype. But given the reactions of the waves of people who walked through the building Wednesday, the years of planning and work paid off in an exceptional way.

“Initially, I wasn’t sure (about the project). I thought $300 million was an awkward number for us to spend on the Capitol,” said Cheyenne’s Rick Fortney as he toured the building. “After looking at it, I feel like it was worth it.”

The Capitol renovation itself, along with the building of the Capitol extension, cost about $138 million. With the remodel of the adjacent Herschler Building, which is still under construction, the creation of an entirely new central utility plant, and the cost to move the Legislature out of the Capitol during the project pushed the bill to about $317 million.

While Fortney and many others felt some sticker shock at that cost, upon seeing the finished project, many said they saw that money had been put to good use.

“It’s nice to see what so much money can do,” said Julie Bolin of Cheyenne. “This is just awesome. It’s absolutely worthy of the state. I’m really proud.”

Fortney and Bolin were just two of the thousands of people who spent time wandering about the completely renovated Capitol a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by state lawmakers. Essentially the entire Capitol was open to the public, along with the newly built committee rooms that are part of the underground Capitol extension wing.

In each corner of the Capitol, it seemed like someone was marveling at the extensive work that went into not only repairing the building, but bringing it back to its original glory.

Throughout the four-year project, workers kept discovering pieces of the original building buried behind bricks or coats of bland paint. And the workers labored meticulously to bring back those touches, whether it was removing a wall of bricks that blocked the House chamber’s original massive window, or restoring turn-of-the-century art that adorned vaults throughout the lower floor of the Capitol.

“I’m just really glad they uncovered history. We’ve been hearing about false floors, false ceiling, balconies, hidden doorways that when they uncovered them were in perfect condition,” said Jill Johansen, a Cheyenne resident who toured the Capitol. “I don’t even know if I have words to describe it. It just looks majestic. It’s stunning.”

One of those restored pieces of history was the state Supreme Court chamber, which served originally as Territorial House Chamber. That was the site where Wyoming’s founding fathers signed the document that formalized women's suffrage as part of the state Constitution.

That room and all its significance are the reason Wyoming’s Capitol is only one of 20 state capitol buildings that have a National Historic Landmark designation. But before the project, it had been split into two floors as a way to gain more space for the growing Legislature.