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Illinois State Capitol’s dome needs millions for repairs

Cracking Up

Illinois State Capitol’s dome needs millions for repairs

Looking up at the Illinois State Capitol's inner dome, which is rendered in stained glass. (Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia Commons)

A comprehensive inspection performed late last year by Chicago-based architecture and engineering firm Bailey Edward has found that the exterior metal skin of the 235-foot-tall dome topping the Illinois Statehouse in Springfield potentially needs to be replaced to stave off damage caused by active leaking. Per Capitol News Illinois, plastic sheeting is currently being used to guide rainwater and prevent leaks from entering the capitol’s magnificent stained glass inner dome and public areas of the structure.

While the Statehouse has undergone several major renovations over the decades, including a $50 million overhaul in 2011, Bailey Edward noted that the dome itself has “been neglected, giving way to cracks and leaks.” The firm’s forthcoming report is set to “include a detailed and prioritized list of recommended corrections and repairs to guide the future preservation efforts of the Illinois State Capitol Dome.”

Earlier restoration work performed on the nearly 93-foot-wide, 361-foot-tall dome’s protective metal shell was completed in 1975 for $950,000. Harl Ray, senior project manager for the secretary of state’s Department of Physical Services, anticipated that the cost to replace the faulty skin will range in the “ballpark of $5 million” based on the 1975 costs. This estimate is roughly $700,000 more than the initial cost of constructing the landmark Renaissance Revival capitol building in the first place, which first broke ground in 1868 and took 20 years to complete.

Exterior of a statehouse with a tall dome on top
The exterior of the Capitol building and dome. (Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia Commons)

Designed by Chicago-based Cochrane and Garnsey, the Illinois Statehouse’s soaring signature dome has helped the building achieve a notable claim to fame as the tallest classical-style state capitol in the United States at 361 feet (save for the 391-foot-tall Art Deco Nebraska Capitol). The Statehouse’s record-setting height seems appropriate given Illinois’ reputation for superlatively lanky buildings.

In addition to a brand new metal skin, the study is also expected to recommend replacing the current flagpole atop the dome so that the process of raising and lowering the flag can be more streamlined—and less harrowing—for workers.

“Our guys and gals are at great risk when they’re up there changing the flag. It might be zero wind down here, but up there it feels like 25 or so,” Mike Wojcik, director of Physical Services for the secretary of state’s office, told Capitol News Illinois. “We’ve been fortunate that we have volunteers that want to go up, but more and more, we have less and less people that are not too afraid to go up there.”