After 175 years, NC Capitol plans nearly in hand - WRBL

After 175 years, NC Capitol plans nearly in hand

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New York architectural firm of Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis improved the earlier design, essentially giving the Capitol its present appearance and plan.(North Carolina State Capitol Foundation) New York architectural firm of Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis improved the earlier design, essentially giving the Capitol its present appearance and plan.(North Carolina State Capitol Foundation)
RALEIGH, N.C. -

Nearly 175 years after work was completed on the North Carolina State Capitol, the architectural plans of the historic structure are nearly in hand.

When completed in 1840, the Capitol was built of locally quarried stone and was the tallest building in the state. Today, skyscrapers on the nearby streets of downtown Raleigh dwarf the graceful structure, with its Greek columns, dome and rotunda.

The Capitol was completed for $563,000 — 10 times the budget and three times the total tax receipts of the state at the time. After a series of architects worked on the project, David Paton was the man who saw the work to completion.

"Toward the end of construction, the state ran out of funds to build the Capitol, so we didn't finish paying our architect. Not being fully paid, he simply packed up all of the original architectural drawings and left," said Kevin Cherry, the deputy secretary of the state Department of Cultural Resources.

Having no architectural plans is a challenge when repairs are needed, and could be problematic if the building had to be rebuilt in the event of fire or other disaster. So for almost a year now, architects who work on conserving historic buildings have been going over the Capitol from attic to cellar taking photographs, making computer generated architectural drawings and hand drawing the details of the building.

The baseline plans for the building, the first phase of the $75,000 project, are expected to be finished in a month or so, said Joseph Oppermann, one of the architects taking part in the effort. The work is being paid for by the nonprofit North Carolina State Capitol Foundation.

The Capitol now houses the governor's office. The legislature moved to newer quarters in the 1960s, although it occasionally returns for ceremonial sessions in the old House and Senate chambers.

Oppermann said the project is about both the past and planning for the future.

"When you have the baseline information, you know that some things will wear out in 20 years and some things in 80 years and some things in five," he said. "I typically use a 20- or a 25-year plan and say, 'Here's the kind of things to anticipate, and here's the kind of costs in today's dollars and how to deal with it in an appropriate fashion.'"

He said he didn't want to comment on the condition of various areas of the building until the work is complete.

"The other way to look at it beside a business plan is sort of like a medical plan," said Peter Aalestad, another of the architects. He compared it to dentist visits and said that for someone who has been before, the first order of business is X-rays.

"If we had the original plans, it would mean we would have had the X-rays to the building," he said. "We're going to get an accurate picture of what it is today, not what it was thought to be."

Foundation member Mary Ruffin Hanbury said the work will allow the state to plan to take care of the building.

"The Capitol is arguably the most significant building in the state for its architecture and its history," she said. "This project will give us a thorough understanding of all aspects of the building, how it has evolved over time, and its present condition. We can then develop a state-of-the-art maintenance plan."

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