Tuesday, July 22, 2014

TIDWELL: Capitol’s view from the top returns

By ASHLEIGH TIDWELL, KU Statehouse Wire Service | 2/26/2014

If you’ve been through Topeka recently, you’ll have noticed that part of the skyline has changed. What used to be a tarnished green dome on our beautiful Capitol building now is the magnificent copper color it was meant to be.

After 13 years and more than $300 million of renovations, the Capitol building finally is finished. For some, this simply means the unsightly crane and scaffolding they have grown accustomed to have been removed. However, it also means tours to the top of the dome have resumed.

If you’ve been through Topeka recently, you’ll have noticed that part of the skyline has changed. What used to be a tarnished green dome on our beautiful Capitol building now is the magnificent copper color it was meant to be.

After 13 years and more than $300 million of renovations, the Capitol building finally is finished. For some, this simply means the unsightly crane and scaffolding they have grown accustomed to have been removed. However, it also means tours to the top of the dome have resumed.

Tours began again Feb. 6, and in those two short weeks, more than 1,200 visitors have made the trek to the top.

“We’ve definitely had a lot of interest in the tours,” tour guide Joe Brentano said. “After so many years of it being closed, people are excited to get up there again.”

It’s a good thing too, because excitement might be the only thing that gets you up all 296 steps. It could be fatigue that slows you down, or it could be the sight of bright yellow spiral staircase suspended over a 304-foot drop to the bottom.

“People do get a little scared,” Brentano said. “We generally tell them to focus on the stairs and try not to use their peripheral vision.”

But if you can make it to the top, the sight truly is breathtaking. From the observation deck at the top of the rotunda, you can see about 30 miles in each direction. With the Capitol building sitting in the middle of the city, you truly see everything. You even can see the slope of the Kansas River Valley in which the city sits.

“The view really speaks for itself,” Brentano said.

Even if you don’t make it to the top, the history of the building you get to see is interesting in its own right.  

During the renovations, a lot of effort was made to maintain all the historical aspects of the building while also keeping the technology and safety features up to date. This included saving old graffiti, restoring tarnished copper both inside and out, and replacing a chandelier hanging from the top of the dome that was sold for scraps during World War II.

“They really wanted to preserve the history of the building,” Brentano said. “So they painted the front halves of the columns but left the original graffiti on the backs. It’s really a mixture of the old and the new.”

The history might only be part of the reason people decide to take the tour though.

“I think a lot of people are just amazed at seeing the structure, the guts of the building,” Brentano said. “Then, of course, there’s the view.”

Though many of the visitors are school children, Brentano said, there also is a lot of interest from native Topekans who haven’t been up since their own school days.

“Some of the older people remember maybe a high school trip they took and they go up to kind of relive or have that nostalgic experience,” Brentano said.

However, the younger kids tend to be more thrilled by the experience.

“The little kids seem to have no fear,” Brentano said. “They like to get up there because it’s a big adventure.”

No matter who you are or what walk of life you come from, there is sure to be something enjoyable and unique about the experience. It’s not often that you can say you climbed 296 steps to get to the top of the Capitol building.

“We’re unique. There are not many other dome capitols that you can go to the top of, so it’s a real treat.”

Free dome tours are available at 9:30 a.m., 10:15 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., 1:15 p.m., 2:15 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tours last about 40 minutes. Reservations are accepted, but walk-up visitors are accommodated as space allows.

For more information or to schedule a tour call the Capitol’s visitor’s center at (785) 296-3966.

Ashleigh Tidwell is a University of Kansas senior from Topeka majoring in journalism.

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