November 12, 2013

Shine back on Kansas’ capitol dome

The iconic copper dome atop the Kansas Statehouse sparkles once again.

The iconic copper dome atop the Kansas Statehouse sparkles once again.

After more than a year of roof work as part of the 12-year overall project, the dome is complete except for a few final sheets of copper that need to be put on the north side.

“It’s exciting,” Statehouse architect Barry Greis said.

If you are among those who like patina – the greenish-colored tarnish that forms on the surface of copper and similar metals as they age – you will have to wait a long, long time to see it covering the dome again.

After the construction of the current Statehouse was completed in 1903, it took only about 15 years before the copper dome was covered in patina, Greis said.

But it’s expected to take 40 or 50 years before the copper dome completely loses its shine and the final crust of patina returns. Cleaner air makes the difference.

“We don’t have sulfur in the air that we used to have from burning coal at the turn of the century,” Greis said.

Sulfur accelerates the chemical process for aging copper, he said. Eventually, though, nature will have its way with the dome – the shine goes, then comes a dark brown and finally a very hard coating of the patina.

“Some people do like green patina,” Greis said, “and they can’t wait for it to return. Others don’t care for it. It’s all opinion.”

People have tried to come up with treatments to keep the copper shiny longer or accelerate the process toward patina.

“But Mother Nature doesn’t like any of it,” Greis said. “The sun eats through those things. There isn’t a product on the market that works.”

The Statehouse has been renovated from top to bottom since work began in 2001, including adding a new visitors’ center and a parking garage. The basement has been expanded by 128,000 square feet.

Cost for the project is expected to be several million dollars less than the budgeted amount of $332 million, Greis said. Included in that price is $10.3 million for the dome’s new plywood decking, water-proof membrane and copper.

Recycling old copper from the roof is expected to bring $200,000 to $250,000, he added.

A web of scaffolding that has surrounded the Statehouse is almost gone. All that remains is on the north side where it’s needed until the last sheets of copper are be installed by mid-December.

Once all the scaffolding is down the large crane that looms over the dome can be taken away, Greis said.

The observation deck, which is right under the Ad Astra sculpture on top of the dome, will reopen to the public after the first of the year, he said.

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