• Ben Szalinski
    JUN 15, 2023


    State capitol renovations remaining within budget as workers progress through years-long overhaul

    The north wing of the Illinois Capitol is undergoing a major renovation project that will be completed in 2025 and feature a new visitor’s center. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line]

    The seat of Illinois’ government has turned into a massive dust-filled construction site as workers overhaul a portion of Illinois’ capitol building that opened in 1888. The changes have forced some state offices, including the Senate, to find new homes for the next two years.  

    Appropriated by the 2019 Rebuild Illinois capital plan, the building and other parts of the capitol complex are undergoing a $300 million renovation that includes new parking garages, meeting rooms, a visitor center and historical restoration of areas of the capitol members of the public and building employees are accustomed to seeing. There are also other major projects underway not immediately visible building visitors including safety improvements such as fire prevention work, Americans with Disabilities Act fixes and structural upgrades to improve previous flawed renovations to the building.   

    “We are going to be able to see things that people who originally walked on the floors of this building saw,” Architect of the Capitol Andrea Aggertt told reporters Wednesday on a tour of the construction site.  

    The original appropriation for the entire construction project was around $350 million, Aggertt said. With a $250 million renovation of the capitol plus another $50 million for the new parking garage on the complex, the project is currently being priced at around $300 million.  

    The Fiscal Year 2024 budget also appropriated $50 million to redesign and replace the capitol complex’s Cold War-era Stratton Building, which has earned a negative reputation among people who work in Springfield. Aggertt said she didn’t have any updates on the building’s immediate future, however. 

    “One of the objectives is to get more green space around the capitol,” Aggertt said. “Someday I think we’ll see the Stratton Building come down, and when the Stratton Building is removed, that will be returned to green space.” 

    Phases one and two of the project, which were delayed until summer 2021 because of the pandemic, include infrastructure work in the basement of the capitol and are set to be completed in the coming months. Phase three are new underground and surface lots being built next to the Stratton Building and is scheduled to be completed in November after starting last summer. Phase four is the renovation of the capitol itself and is scheduled to begin wrapping up at the start of 2025.  

    “As with any construction project, we run into things that we didn’t know or didn’t expect was there… we’re working in a historic building and not everybody kept good references so unless we did destructive demo while people were working in the space, there are things that we have to account for instead of planning for in advance,” Aggertt said.  

    Old trusses holding the capitol together were discovered behind walls during demolition on upper floors of the capitol, creating an unexpected barrier for workers. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line] 

    “The biggest challenge is we didn’t have good documentation of the building,” Aggertt said. “And I assume that’s pretty typical for a building of this age. We didn’t have the computer and all the ability to create multi-level 3D drawings of these spaces” in the late 1800s. “So we worked off of what we had, but a lot of it was once we got into the construction project being able to demolish some areas and figure out what was hidden behind the walls was what we had to deal with.” 

    The demolition has also produced some additional surprises for construction workers.  

    “We do occasionally find during demolition artifacts or things deemed worthy of saving in the Capitol building,” Aggertt said. “We’ve even found things in excavation of the yard. Those things have included ointments bottles, alcohol bottles, old newspapers, soda cans, pull-tab beer cans... We save all of those and it is our plan in the next couple of months to create a displace case in the Stratton Building.” 

    Between all the construction equipment, demolition and new construction, the shapes of many spaces are recognizable. But walls, ceilings, floors and even entire staircases and elevators have been removed from office spaces once occupied by the Governor’s Office, treasurer, comptroller and Senate.  

    The first floor north wing doors was often a primary entrance for building employees and visitors. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line] 

    The project has forced the Senate to move their business across the capitol complex to the Howlett Building run by the secretary of state. The Senate began conducting business there during the fall 2022 veto session, and it will remain there through 2024 before returning to renovated chambers in January 2025. Senate offices have since become scattered around the capitol and Stratton Building.  

    While the project has forced the Senate out, many changes are happening in the Senate chamber itself. The desks have been covered but remain in the room. A new skylight is being installed in the chamber ceiling, similar to the existing one in the House, to allow some natural light to flow through a painted window.  

    Senators’ desks are covered during construction in the chamber, as seen from the chamber’s front gallery behind the presiding officer’s chair. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line] 

    Workers have installed a skylight in the Senate that leads to the attic on the Capitol’s fifth floor, which will allow natural light to enter the chamber. The skylight is pictured from the sixth floor of the north wing. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line] 

    Another significant change Senate staff will notice is the elimination of mezzanine-level offices on the first and second floors of the building. The level, added during late 1960s renovations, divided the floors in half to create more office space. Removing the mezzanine offices will reduce office space, Aggertt said, but helps improve some of the flawed designs building employees have dealt with over the last 50 years.  

    Architect of the Capitol Andrea Aggertt explains a steal beam shows how the first floor was divided into two to create more office space. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line] 

    Former Illinois State Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Chicago) office on the second level of the first floor’s mezzanine level has been removed by the renovations. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line] 

    Demolition of walls has allowed architects to see the building’s original structure and paint schemes has also exposed some of the building’s history, including walls in what is now the Senate Republicans’ office that were charred by a fire. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line] 

    Outside the building, a new visitor’s center is being built that will be partially underground. It also includes a new tunnel being built across the street on the north side of the building that will allow access to a future office building on the complex anticipated to be built in future decades.  

    A hole dozens of feet deep will house the Capitol’s new visitor’s center beginning in 2025. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line] 

    The visitor's center will streamline entrance to the Capitol and allow for security upgrades, Aggertt said. The construction means a semi-circle lot used for parking by lawmakers is being eliminated.  

    “We’ve been told for years that the north drive is allowing cars to just be too close to the building, but we will now funnel employees and visitors through the new north entrance… We’ll also have the ability that in the event there is a threat into our new entrance, we’ll be able to lock those doors and secure the building and not actually let that person or people in,” Aggertt said.  

    In 2004, a gunman shot and killed an unarmed security guard at the north doors of the capitol, according to the Tribune. The gunman has since been found not guilty by reason of insanity.  

    The project is also bringing a new meeting space to the capitol. A large hole on the northwest side of the building will later house a divided conference room that can be used for meetings and events of different sizes.  

    Workers are building a large conference room that will connect to the Capitol, Stratton Building and parking garage. Behind the hole, a concrete slab shows the roof of a new underground parking garage on the north side of the Stratton Building. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line] 

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