For years, Wyoming lawmakers and residents have fretted about what to do with the state Capitol, a beautiful but aging structure that is the crown jewel of Cheyenne.
The urge to fix up, restore and renovate the Capitol intensified this year when a preliminary engineering inspection revealed that several of the huge blocks above the entrance were actually coming loose and presented a safety hazard.
In many respects, it’s simply benign neglect that has allowed the Capitol to slip into a gradual state of disrepair. The carpet is fraying, the structure is showing its age, and the offices are quaint yet cramped.
Literally, the Capitol is being loved to death.
The other challenge is that despite Wyoming’s size relative to other states, state government and the population has grown since the Capitol’s construction. And because of the beloved beauty and the prestige of working literally in the Capitol, no one wants to leave these awesome digs.
While talk of Capitol renovation is often cooled by the cost of such an overhaul and the inconvenience of moving — even if temporary — fewer people are excited by the prospect of an additional state office building.
Yet in order to accommodate the needs of the state, lawmakers and the Capitol itself (which is in desperate need of more meeting rooms), more space is needed. Talk of renovating the Capitol can’t be done without also discussing the addition of another state office building facility.
Few people in Wyoming love the idea of spending millions of dollars on an office building. And, as some have pointed out, no governor wants to be the leader of the state that spent millions for something as mundane as office space.
Yet as un-glamorous as it may be, we believe both the renovation of the Capitol and the addition of office space is exactly what is past due and needed in Cheyenne.
We believe state Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, is correct: Any talk of Capitol renovations cannot be done without talking about office space. And, there has to be a plan that everyone can live with before spending money.
Not surprisingly, the fight regarding space in the Capitol has not been without politics. Space in Wyoming’s high temple of politics is coveted. Lawmakers, who ultimately control the building through the Management Council, want to move state officials out of the Capitol and into office buildings — an unpopular move. However, lawmakers correctly contend more meeting space is needed in the small Capitol. Meanwhile, Gov. Matt Mead has vetoed money that would have started engineering and architectural plans for additional office space, saying that in an economic climate of cuts, it simply wasn’t the right time for spending more money on state buildings. Now, lawmakers are considering writing a stand-alone bill that would move the office building project forward.
We understand that everyone wants to be in the Capitol. And why not? It’s gorgeous and official.
Yet the fact remains that there are too many folks and too many needs to adequately be handled by the cramped Capitol.
Lawmakers should continue to push forward with plans for more office space and Capitol renovation. And, that will mean inconvenience. Yet, it will also mean this beautiful space will be preserved and restored for the benefit of future Wyoming residents and tourists.
Legislators are right to make sure that plans for a Capitol are part of the plans for office space. You can’t have one without the other. As Nicholas said, the state needs a global solution before any money is spent.
However, construction costs, especially in Wyoming, aren’t going to get cheaper than they are now. We can spend now, or spend more later.
Also consider that the state spends $6 million leasing out other office space for state offices in Cheyenne. Building additional office space would certainly reduce money that would otherwise be spent in rent.
Shrewdly, Wyoming has gotten plenty of value by using its Capitol. Now, it’s time to protect that investment by making another one. It’s time to renovate and expand.