capitol dome crop

Caulking applied to expansion joints in 2001 has deteriorated, allowing water inside the State Capitol’s inner dome. Temporary repairs should begin in mid-October before a longer-term solution is undertaken.

LINCOLN — Nebraska officials approved funds Monday for emergency repairs to preserve the State Capitol’s gold-tiled dome.

The work is needed to protect the dome from moisture and the damaging freeze-thaw cycles of winter, said Bob Ripley, administrator for the Office of the Capitol Commission. The plan is to undertake a longer-term solution next year.

“The condition is dire enough we needed to take action before winter arrives,” he said. “It’s foolishness to wait too long.”

Ripley said concerns had been raised when efflorescence, a chalky substance that can indicate water damage on masonry surfaces, appeared on the southwest part of the dome.

A July inspection of the dome found that caulking applied to expansion joints in 2001 had deteriorated at an alarming rate. In many areas, he said, the caulking was no longer in place and the expansion joints, which allow the dome to move during the freeze-thaw cycle, were open to the weather.

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The problem had allowed water to get into the inner dome structure. Freezing temperatures had moved some of the gold tile out of place, raising the risk that it could fall off.

Ripley said the caulking had been replaced as part of the 12-year, $57.5 million masonry restoration project at the Capitol. But he said current caulking products do not last as long as previous formulations, which contained more toxic ingredients.

Caulking now needs to be checked every five to seven years, he said. The Capitol Commission has been recaulking joints in the lower reaches of the building at the rate of about $10,000 to $20,000 worth every year.

Ripley said budget limitations prevented the commission from checking the dome previously. To inspect the dome, contractors use rope harnesses and rappel down from the base of the Sower statue. This year, he decided the inspection could not wait.

The Capitol Commission held a special meeting Monday and approved the transfer of funds from a plaster repair and painting project to pay for the emergency repairs. The repairs are expected to cost about $181,000.

The plan is to have workers rappel onto the dome and temporarily seal the expansion joints. The effort should keep the tiles in place and prevent further water damage. Ripley said work should begin in mid-October, weather permitting.

The longer-term solution will require scaffolding around the dome, so workers can remove the tile, fix the underlying structure and replace the tile, he said. Caulking work also will be needed on the tower.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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