LINCOLN — State agencies are moving out. State senators are moving up. It’s the state office shuffle these days at the Nebraska State Capitol.

Finished with the planning stages, this summer, officials are beginning an ambitious update to the 15-story building in Lincoln that will displace elected officials and state agencies for almost a decade.

With a price tag of $106 million, it is the most expensive and complicated project ever undertaken at the Capitol, said Bob Ripley, the administrator of the State Capitol.

The project started as an update to the more than 50-year-old heating and cooling system, but as in most renovation s, the to-do list started growing.

Fire sprinklers were added to the list. And an updated fire alarm system. A new generator. And if officials were going to rip out the heating and cooling units that sit against the windows, it made sense to fix the windows, too.

The project has been in the works since 2012. It has taken years to gain the political momentum to secure funding for the project and then carefully plan how the work will be done in the historic building.

“You can’t just go blowing a hole wherever you want” Ripley said. “We’ve got marble and limestone and granite and tile and all kinds of exotic materials, and it has to be preserved.”

The project will take eight years to complete and affect every branch of Nebraska’s government and various state agencies. Over the course of those years, every quadrant of the building will at some point be closed off to the public for 1½ years.

Multiple state agencies have been moved out of the Capitol for the eight-year duration of the work. The agencies are now housed in leased space in buildings around downtown Lincoln.

State senators will keep their offices in the Capitol, but some of them will have to move to the tower of the building, into space recently vacated by the state agencies. Typically, all of the senators have offices on the first and second floors.

Eventually, even the governor will have to move out of his office.

Ripley said that all the moving around and leasing of additional space added to the project’s cost but that the work is not something that should be done when people are in their offices.

“Some guy in here with a ladder poking a hole in your ceiling, and you’re sitting here with what? An umbrella over your head to keep plaster from falling on you? It just didn’t make sense to do it any other way,” Ripley said.


The renovation at the Capitol will include replacing windows. The Capitol administrator said that after the project, the building will look more like it did originally.

Officials knew that it was time for a new heating and cooling system when the pipes started busting. The fact that offices aren’t regularly flooded is a credit to the Capitol staff, Ripley said.

“It’s a constant worry,” said Clark deVries, HVAC project manager. “You’re just on edge looking for those failures.”

When the project is done, the Capitol will be cooled and partially heated using geothermal energy.

A geothermal well field will be installed in the ground in a city block around the Capitol. It will consist of 225 wells planted 670 feet into the ground. It will be a closed-loop system made up of a network of deep wells and pipes.

The geothermal well field will not be cheap to install, but Ripley said it has the potential to serve more than one generation of heating and cooling systems in the Capitol.

Casual visitors to the Capitol might not notice much of a difference when the work is finished, but Ripley said the Capitol will look more like it did when it was completed in 1932.

Especially on the first floor, where a lay-in ceiling was installed when the Capitol got air conditioning in the 1960s. That ceiling will be torn out, and because it will no longer block windows, the first floor will likely be brighter, Ripley said.

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Emily covers K-12 education, including Omaha Public Schools. Previously, Emily covered local government and the Nebraska Legislature for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @emily_nitcher. Phone: 402-444-1192.

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