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Eblen: New murals cap restoration work at state Capitol

April 2, 2010

I’m originally from North Carolina, where the General Assembly convenes in a building in downtown Raleigh built in the early 1960s with architecture more modern than classic.

North Carolina General Assembly's legislative building (NCGA photo)

So you might be able to understand the impact Kentucky’s state Capitol had on me the first time I visited in 2006, when I was first assigned to cover the legislature during its annual sessions. It’s certainly a breathtaking building and is one of the most beautiful and impressive homes to state government I’ve ever seen, both inside and out.

During the four years I covered the legislature in Frankfort, that initial impact and feeling when I first saw the Capitol never really faded, and I always counted myself lucky to be able to work in a building so grand. There was always something special about leaving the press room in Capitol at night when most everyone had already gone home, and the hubbub along the marble corridors was replaced with silence.

All this waxing nostalgic about my time in the state Capitol is prompted in part by a column this week by the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Tom Eblen, who fills us in on some new additions to the interior of the Capitol as part of the latest restoration work.

The Kentucky state Capitol (LRC photo)

The interior of the dome atop the Capitol has been cleaned and relit, and will in the near future feature four murals representing “agriculture, industry, civilization and integrity,” and are courtesy of donation from Marion and Terry Forcht of Corbin.

From Eblen’s column

The murals will highlight a $460,000 state-financed restoration of the dome and rotunda. That money was appropriated in 2006, before the recession put a squeeze on the state budget, said David Buchta, the state curator.

“It will give people a chance to see what can be done with the rest of the building eventually, as resources allow,” he said.

A contractor had to brace and pad the rotunda’s marble floors to erect 175 feet of scaffolding, weighing 115,000 pounds, so workers could clean the marble walls and paint the corners and dome for the first time in about 40 years. The work was completed a little more than a week ago.

While they were at it, workers replaced the dome’s original incandescent light fixtures with energy-efficient LED lighting, the color of which can be changed for special events.

It’s hard to tell how much electricity the new LEDs will save, though, because much of the dome’s lighting hasn’t worked in decades, Buchta said. Bulbs in the lower dome have been replaced with compact fluorescents while he searches for LED lights that will work there.

Be sure to read Eblen’s column to learn more about the history of the Capitol, the work that’s being done, and to see some impressive pictures he took looking down from inside the dome.

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