CHEYENNE — After millions of dollars spent and countless words of praise — and sometimes scorn — cast on its behalf, Wyoming’s historic state Capitol, the “People’s House,” finally opened to the public July 10 after roughly four years of extensive renovations.
Long under scaffolding, the structure’s golden dome shimmered in sunlight under a perfect prairie sky, a striking sight above crisp green lawns that, in some spots, had clearly been laid in squares only days before. In the vast, open hallways, burgundy script accentuated the goldenrod walls as hundreds filed through with open mouths, taking in all the structures’ most secret details for what could very well be the first — and final — time.
“For those of you who have never set foot in the Capitol during the session, this building is the heartbeat of Wyoming,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in prepared remarks. “It is only that because of the spirit you give this building as the people of Wyoming.”
Representing the first renovations in the building’s 132-year history, the structure’s transition from prairie gem to modern statehouse has been an arduous one, traveling a path marred by cost overruns, economic collapse and tense political jockeying throughout the course of the project.
None of that mattered Wednesday however, as all of Wyoming’s political class converged not to dwell on the combative history of the project but with optimism toward a new future — and the celebration of a project that, in the words of lawmakers, was “on time” and “on budget.”
“The sun’s going to keep coming up in the east over the House Chambers every morning,” Speaker of the House Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said in a speech. “There are going to be better days ahead of us, and we want to affirm that they’re coming.”
Cheyenne pulled out all the stops to mark what many described as a once-in-a-lifetime event.
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In a massive celebration, lawmakers, state officials and Wyoming citizens from all over the state descended upon Cheyenne to celebrate the occasion, pouring into every ornately painted corner of the rejuvenated structure. Down Capital Avenue, a sea of more than a thousand people spread across the pavement, the twang of country and folk music pulsing in the background. And legislators — some of whom have gone their entire careers without ever stepping foot in the building — took stock of their new surroundings.
Above all, the reopening of the Capitol had an unspoken symbolism as a proxy for all of Wyoming, which celebrated the 129th anniversary of its statehood Wednesday. Preparations for the building’s repair began as early as 2003 and, once ground had broken in 2014, the state entered another bust in a history of busts — a shaking of the state’s foundation. Meanwhile, the Capitol’s construction crews toiled in the mud and muck, laying a foundation for an increasingly unstable and ramshackle building — toils few in the public would ever see.
“We want to thank those who have done this work,” Harshman said. “We may not remember them, but somehow, someday people will come here and feel that people cared a lot.”
“We know this place is more than a building,” said former Gov. Matt Mead, whose administration oversaw the project’s start. “It is a symbol of our hopes, our dreams. It is a symbol of the heart of Wyoming. It will forever serve as a beacon of hope and prosperity for all.”