SD Capitol glass repairs on track, 'fascinating'
By Nora Hertel
PIERRE (AP) — Barbara Johnson could not wait until June for the return of the stained glass to South Dakota's Capitol rotunda skylight.
So the scholar of stained glass windows, who has received state grants to study them, visited the skylights at the Wisconsin studio where they have been taken to be cleaned and repaired.
"It's going to be so cool," Johnson said about the anticipated reveal of the windows. "It's going to sparkle."
Johnson and the crew from Conrad Schmitt Studios in New Berlin, Wis., are back in the Capitol this week to work on the barrel vault skylight above the main marble staircase.
Four sets of windows are being repaired: The main dome over the rotunda, those over the stairs, then windows in the Senate and House chambers will be removed in April. The restoration is costing the state about $3 million.
Workers will dismantle and repair the century-old stained glass windows from the barrel vault. The panels over the stairs are unique because they form an arch. They lacked cross supports and were starting to buckle in an accordion-like manner.
"Age and gravity were taking their toll," said Mike Mueller with the Bureau of Administration. "They simply weren't designed well enough to stand the test of time."
This week and next the crew will remove 60 out of 90 panels from the barrel skylight and take them to Wisconsin for repair. The lead seams will be replaced in the windows.
Crew members in harnesses carefully pull off the windows after cataloguing them. Each panel is made up of many pieces of glass and weighs about 20 or 25 pounds.
"We're having to adjust and adapt our plans as we go," Mueller said. "But it has gone smoothly in the barrel vault."
The remaining 30 panels with a corn motif will be cleaned in place. Mueller said they have aged better because they are nearly straight up and down, rather than horizontal.
He also said the installations in the House and Senate originally were put in backward, so the crew will fix that when they put those windows back in.
He estimates the project will be complete by Oct. 1, in time for South Dakota's 125th anniversary in November. Mueller said he likes being part of something that comes around every two centuries. And he hopes the repairs will last more than 125 years.
"It's really exciting to work on a project like this. It combines art, history and architecture," Mueller said. "It's fun. It's been fascinating."
He said people have been supportive despite the cost of the restoration, and notes that the glass could have posed a danger if it wasn't addressed. Johnson agreed.
"It's the state's 125th birthday present to itself," Johnson said. "People love their state Capitol and they want to take care of it."