While workers begin the $1.7 million renovation of Governor Fife Symington's office, the state's historical landmark next door is going to hell in a handbasket.

The Old Capitol Building, built in 1900, is in need of some care.
There are holes in the domed ceiling where the plaster has fallen off because of water damage. Similarly, the walls and ceiling in the original House chamber are crumbling and one of the ceiling beams has begun to sag. The same holes exist in the plaster walls along the spiral staircase that leads down from the dome.

The building is now a museum, and its director, Michael Carman, says, "We get a lot of negative comments from tourists. And sometimes a citizen will come and tell me or someone on the staff how upset they are that they pay taxes and the building looks like this."

A third-floor room that used to house an exhibit on women in government has been closed because water has damaged the walls and ceiling. There's evidence of damage on the walls in the west end of the first floor, too, where water used to puddle on the floor.

"As our problems got worse, money has gotten less all the time," explains Carman.

The building underwent a $4 million renovation between 1976 and 1981. But since then, according to Carman, it's fallen prey to funding woes.

And historical buildings aren't cheap. According to one Valley architect, moisture damage is like cancer to an old building. Eradicating it requires sealing the exterior of the building and opening up the inside to see the extent of the damage.

"Mother Nature is a magician at putting water inside of buildings," says Thom Wilson of TRK Architects. "And with government buildings, regrettably, maintenance is a minimal thing because there's not much money for it."

The Department of Administration, which is charged with maintaining the building, has fixed the roof leaks and the other emergency problems as they crop up, Carman says. But that doesn't include repairing the damage caused as a result. There doesn't seem to be any money for that.

At this point, he says, renovation would likely cost between $1.5 million and $2 million. However, as a part of the Capitol complex that houses the executive and legislative branches of state government, the Old Capitol Building could be fixed up with money from the State Land Trust--the same funds being used to renovate Symington's office.

Legislators could appropriate the funds any time they were so inclined. It just hasn't been an issue.

"When you look at where our archives are stored, that's real serious stuff," says Ruth Solomon, a Tucson Democrat and a member of the joint legislative board that oversees archives and the museum. "I think it's probably not known about, frankly." Carman, who clearly has deep affection for the building, got a $15,000 grant from the Heritage Foundation last year to assess renovation needs. That study should be done in about three months.

Without that, he says, asking for money would have been pointless. "I didn't want to go over there [to the Legislature] and say I need a lot of money and not say how much or what for," Carman says. Now he's a bit more optimistic. He even sees the Governor's Office project, which will include a $60,000 staircase to connect the eighth and ninth floors of the executive tower, as a positive sign.

"People start thinking about renovation. That can only help us," Carman says. "It gives us the opportunity to say, 'Hey, what about me?'"

If nothing else, it could be a birthday present. The Old Capitol Building will celebrate its centennial in 2001 (the building was dedicated in 1901), which isn't far off in Government Standard Time.

"I'm going to go hat-in-hand across the rose garden and beg unashamedly," Carman says.

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Lisa Davis