Topeka — Crews will begin work on the "People's Building" this fall, starting an eight-year project to restore the Statehouse to its former luster and grandeur.
The $133 million project is expected begin in September or October with construction of a 561-car parking garage beneath the north lawn.
Secretary of Administration Dan Stanley said the $13 million garage was added by the Capital Restoration Commission to improve access and aesthetics of 134-year-old structure.
"The grounds of the Capitol really look like a Kmart parking lot," Stanley said, referring to the parked cars that ring the building on a typical day.
Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, who chairs the restoration committee, said the project would improve access for visitors and legislators by expanding parking, meeting rooms and legislative offices.
Also in the plans are a visitors center on the north side of the Statehouse, with access from a circular drive.
Bill Groth, the Statehouse architect overseeing the renovation, said visitors would enter the building at what is now the basement level. A labyrinth of storage rooms and utility pipes will be replaced with lighted classrooms, a cafeteria and offices.
In addition, an underground walkway will be constructed around the Statehouse between its foundation and a corridor of new offices for legislative support staff and media, Groth said.
The area will be marked by skylights in the walkway's ceiling to illuminate the basement and give an interesting view of the dome.
"We will really be introducing a lot of light into that area with the skylights," Groth said.
While adding new features, crews also will give attention to the Statehouse's brittle limestone exterior.
Throughout the building, specialists have peeled layers of paint to reveal original wall details. The paint schemes and stencilings will be restored, returning the Statehouse to its 1917 appearance.
Legislators agree the work is needed.
"Over the years, it has deteriorated," said Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and a member of the restoration commission. "It is time we respect what our forefathers did for us and restore it to its original majesty."
To finance the first phase of the project, the state will issue $40 million in bonds, to be repaid with the interest on unclaimed money invested by the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.
Kerr said he did not expect the $205 million hole in the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 to derail support for the renovation.
"Unless you stay committed and stay hitched to a project like this through thick and thin, you never get it done," he said.