The New York state capitol had been under renovation for a decade when Governor Andrew M. Cuomo took office on Jan. 1, 2011. Scaffolding had obscured the exterior and cluttered the halls for so long that it seemed it would never end.
In his inaugural address, Governor Cuomo said:
"This Capitol has become a physical metaphor for the isolation and alienation of our people. In the name of heightened security, they have erected barriers and barricades all around this Capitol. To get into this Capitol is now like running an obstacle course and it shouldn’t be. People refer to the Capitol as a fort or as a bunker; it is anything but.
This is a beautiful monument to democracy, this building. This is the people’s meeting place and they should be invited in.
And today, my friends, we will reopen the Capitol, literally and figuratively. We will remove the barriers on State Street so the tour buses can return once again. We will be opening up the second floor, the Governor’s floor, so the members of the public will once again have access to their government."
Governor Cuomo’s executive order to remove the barriers and open the second floor was the first of many steps he took to reconnect the people of New York to their government and the majestic capitol in which it works. The capitol restoration project was slated to take 14 years (2000-2014), but Governor Cuomo announced when he took office that the project would be accelerated so that it could be completed 18 months early (fall 2012) and at least $2 million under budget.
A large portion of the restoration project involved replacing the terra cotta portions of the roof and repairs to the slate roof to correct a chronic leak that had started shortly after the building was completed in 1899. Additional exterior work included rebuilding a skylight that had once illuminated the Great Western Staircase.
Interior restoration included: renovation of the Hall of Governors on the second floor; removal of a 1940s renovation that had created additional office space in the Senate and Assembly staircases; complete restoration of those staircases including restoration of the laylights (A laylight is a lightbox between a skylight and the ceiling of a room.) that had originally provided natural light.
In addition to physical restoration, installation of museum-quality exhibits throughout the capitol and a smart phone accessible walking tour help visitors and school groups understand the history of the building.
In his inaugural address and in many interviews since, Governor Cuomo referred to the capitol restoration as a metaphor for public service and state government. He has compared the restoration of the skylight in the Great Western Staircase and the laylights in the Senate and Assembly staircases to the new transparency in New York’s state government; the accelerated completion of the project to state government getting things done faster and smarter; and finishing the capitol restoration $2.3 million under budget to the new efficiency of state government.
In a visual tour of the capitol in this past Sunday’s New York Times, Capitol Redux, readers are treated to the beauty of a historic landmark preserved.