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Barron: Finding your way in Capitol Square
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Barron: Finding your way in Capitol Square

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CHEYENNE — A few years ago, before the pandemic, officials noted that visitors were wandering about lost in the renovated Capitol Building.

They needed more than a name painted on the door to identify the offices of constitutionally elected executive branch officials other than the governor — secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, and state superintendent of public instruction.

Visitors also needed help wending their way through the corridors on the garden level and the corridor to the Herschler Building extension and the Learning Center.

To find a solution, a new special subcommittee on Capitol Interpretive Exhibits and Wayfinding was formed to create informational kiosks, signs and other methods to offer directions. The committee consists of legislators and executive branch officials.

The Legislature last winter allocated $2 million to start the project which originally was budgeted to cost $4 million to complete.

The ambitious project, as described by officials during their first meeting last week, will encompass the entire Capitol Square to include not just the Capitol Building but the supreme court and state museum.

The goal is to offer a “more robust student experience,” said Wendy Madsen, the special projects manager for the Legislative Service Office.“

A key element is planning for student groups.

An earlier study said the main focus of the exhibits should be on fourth and fifth graders and to meet the requirements of tenth to twelfth graders.

Research shows, said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, that students who learn about civics and government are much more likely to discuss politics at home and later to vote in elections.

“Our work is so much more profound than getting from A to B,” Balow said. “It’s about the education of generation of students so they will be more engaged citizens.”

The next step to get the project moving is to prepare requests for proposals from candidates for the position of interpretive exhibit designer.

State Treasurer Curt Meier said he wanted signage in the Capitol Building to explain the importance of the four constitutional offices other than governor.

Those offices Meier said, “are kind of the glue that holds government together.”

Sen. Bill Landen of Casper a co-chairman of the subcommittee with Balow, said he felt an urgency about the interim work. That workload may require meetings every two weeks to prepare for the Appropriations committee budget hearings that begin in January.

In the meantime the subcommittee members will visit the University of Wyoming’s Gateway Center and other new visitor centers to view the latest in technology for interpretive exhibits.

Diane Shober, executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, , said the Capitol Building itself is a travel destination.

Before the pandemic, the building was the most visited man-made structure in Wyoming.

She told of the challenges her agency faced in building and equipping a new visitor’s center.

She said she hope the subcommittee will look at a long term plan with staffing for the Capitol Square visitors.

“We know that staffing our visitor center enriched visitors’ experience.” she said.

Meanwhile a proposed plan originated in 2015 by a firm called The Design Minds, provided a possible blueprint for the project.

The working tagline was “The People’s House — the most important building in Wyoming.”

It covered various approaches to capture and maintain the interest of typical visitors, including students, museums and visitor centers.

The three categories of visitors are identified by industry jargon as “streakers, strollers or studiers,” the Legislative Service Office document said.

“Streakers move through the exhibits quickly, catching the highlights and looking at a few eye-catching things,” the document said.

“Strollers generally spend time learning the main stories and key objects and images; they have a working knowledge of the topic at hand.”

“Studiers visit each piece of the installation, exploring topics in detail and gathering in-depth knowledge of the exhibit themes and meanings.

They will interact with touch screens, open drawers and read almost every label.”

And they won’t get lost.

Joan Barron is a former capitol bureau reporter. Contact her at 307-632-2534 or jmbarron@bresnan.net

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