LINCOLN — The State Capitol courtyards should start to bloom next year as work gets underway on a long-planned landscaping project.

Meanwhile, the group of former state senators who raised nearly $1.4 million for the courtyard gardens are embarking on a new venture.

Their goal this time is to explore options for developing the fifth-floor area overlooking the Capitol’s Rotunda. The area has been vacant and closed to the public for most of the building’s history.

From the second floor, visitors can see only a line of columns and the stone railings that encircle the Rotunda just below the mosaic of virtues in the dome.

“At the moment it’s completely unused, largely for security purposes,” said former Sen. Bob Wickersham.

The former legislators group is working with BVH Architecture to come up with ideas for using the space. Wickersham suggested that one possibility would be to display exhibits.

That’s how the space was used when it was open briefly to the public during the 1980s, said Bob Ripley, the longtime administrator for the Office of the Capitol Commission. It housed a display about construction of the Capitol.

But the area required constant staff supervision to prevent people from throwing or dropping things over the railings, he said. Even so, there were some close calls. The cost of staffing has been a barrier to opening the area, which was originally intended to be an overlook.