SPRINGFIELD – Over the past year, construction workers inside the Illinois Statehouse have stripped most of the building’s north wing down to its bare bones and are now in the process of restoring it to its original grandeur.
That portion of the historic building, which includes the Senate chamber, has been closed to the public since last spring. But Capitol Architect Andrea Aggertt gave Statehouse media a behind-the-scenes look Wednesday, June 14 at how the work is progressing.
The construction tour started on the Capitol’s north wing, pictured above, which has in recent years been the main entry point for the building’s staff. Aggertt said the north side will serve as the building’s main entry point moving forward, although the doors will be lowered from where the concrete steps were located prior to the renovations. A vestibule will greet guests and staff alike, featuring enhanced security.
Phase 4 includes the north wing renovations toured by reporters Wednesday. It began last July and will have a “staggered” completion date.
“So the Senate will return to a majority of their offices and to their chamber in January of 2025,” she said. “And for the next nine to 10 months preceding that, we will return spaces back slowly. So about every three months, we’ll open up the new entrance, we’ll open up the tunnels, we’ll open up the underground conference center.”
Aggertt said the first and second phase of construction were combined in 2021 due to pandemic-related delays but they are mostly complete. It included “ancillary projects,” including demolition of the north wing basements, rerouting of sewer lines, asbestos abatement and a new mechanical room. Phase 3 includes the construction of a parking garage that is expected to conclude in November.
Aggertt said the General Assembly appropriated $350 million in the 2019 Rebuild Illinois capital infrastructure plan for the Statehouse and Capitol Complex parking renovations. But thus far, the renovations are on pace to cost about $300 million.
She also discussed some of the challenges workers have faced.
“I’d say probably the biggest challenge is that we just didn’t have good documentation of the building, and I assume that’s pretty typical for a building of this age,” she said. “So we worked off of what we had. But a lot of it was, once we got into the construction project, being able to … demolish some areas and figure out what was hidden behind the walls or what we’d have to deal with.”
The second-floor balcony which was only accessible from the governor’s office prior to renovations, shows that the concrete stairs that led to the north entrance have been demolished in the current renovation process. The north entrance, once renovated, will be the main public entryway, Aggertt said.
It will have two metal detectors and security stations to better accommodate large groups and it should be safer, she added. Currently, entrances have one metal detector, which is located a few feet within the entrance.
“We also will have the ability, in the event that there is a threat that enters into our new entrance, we’ll be able to lock those doors and secure the building and not actually let that person or people into Capitol proper,” she said.
The north drive that once housed the cars of senators and staff won’t be brought back, Aggertt said, as it allowed cars too close to the building.
A tunnel is being built halfway into Monroe Street outside of the Capitol’s north entrance. Aggertt said it’s a “proactive” effort that will, for now, leads to a dead end but in the future could connect a planned office building located north of Monroe Street to the Capitol. The Fiscal Year 2024 state budget included $50 million for “planning and design” of a new office building and the demolition of the Stratton building west of the Capitol.
Aggertt said she did not know much about that line item, but added, “someday I think we’ll see the Stratton building come down. And when the Stratton building is removed, that will be returned to green space.”
Otherwise, Aggertt’s tour focused largely on what were most recently Senate offices.
Initial construction on the Statehouse began in 1868 and it hosted its first legislative session in 1877. Aggertt said the goal of this renovation was to restore the building’s aesthetic to its historic roots.
“We are exposing the bones right now. And those bones primarily are stone and masonry,” she said.
Aggertt said the charred look of some of the masonry in this first-floor office space is a result of a fire that occurred previously in the Capitol.
A previous renovation project in the 1960s and 1970s increased the amount of office space by constructing mezzanines to divide in half the floors that were built with lofty ceilings.
One of the biggest ongoing renovations includes removing mezzanine levels that subdivided the first- and second-floor offices. In the picture above, the steel beam shows the dividing line that was once the floor of the mezzanine level. While the renovations will restore the Capitol’s original look, Aggertt said they will also significantly decrease the office space in the Capitol.
During the tour, Aggertt directed reporters’ attention to a corner of the second-floor ceiling which stood above President Barack Obama’s one-time Senate office. Because the mezzanine levels that housed the ex-president are now removed, “Obama’s office” will no longer exist at the Capitol.
Aggertt said the elevators will be restored before construction is complete, and part of the renovation effort is focused on ensuring the building’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The architect’s office is using the two-dimensional mock-ups of light fixtures for a spatial estimate during renovations.
Another contractor hired by the architect has been creating “exposure strips,” meticulously peeling back layers of paint to unveil the building’s former aesthetic so that it can be restored.
“We found a lot of gold and silver and bronze paint in this area,” Aggertt said of a second-floor office.
The Senate chamber is also undergoing renovations.
All that is left of the Senate president’s anteroom ceiling. Aggertt said the rest of it had to be removed but will be replaced and the room will be made ADA compliant.
A laylight is a type of skylight designed to allow natural light to flow into the room from the floors above.
“So in the very center of the chamber previously, there was a large decorative plaster area that used to be the home of the Senate laylight,” Aggertt said. “That Senate laylight was destroyed by fire in the early 1900s. And we are replacing that laylight.”
Aggertt noted that a parking garage adjacent to the Stratton building on the Capitol’s west side will be connected to the Capitol and a new underground conference area via tunnel. The construction area pictured above will include an underground parking garage and surface-level parking, which will expand Capitol parking by about 600 spots from current levels. It is expected to be completed later this year, likely in November.
Aggertt said the Capitol renovations will also include a public use conference center,
It will hold potentially up to 200 to 250 people, Aggertt said, and will have a cafe and a large mechanical room to heat and cool the basement.
She added “the options are endless” for how it could be used.
“There will be no dedicated office space and nobody really will stake claim to that space,” she said. “It will have a cafe and a lounge area where people could have a short gathering or meeting…it could be set up in a classroom format or in an auditorium format. So depending on the use, we can configure it to the need of the day.”
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.