Capitol Revamp Below the Radar

Capturing largely unused interior space can shower light on the lower level and its new hearing rooms, as well as create an inviting courtyard for witnesses and Capitol visitors.Convening in a fairly remote third floor conference room, the State Capitol Master Planning Committee continued its work late last month to propose major physical changes in the Capitol to the next legislature.

Most Oregonians are unaware this committee exists and has developed an extensive plan to revamp the main part of the Capitol, which is more than 70 years old in its current figuration. Wings added more than 25 years ago for legislative offices and meetings rooms already have been remodeled.

The committee's vision statement reads:

"The Oregon State Capitol is a working symbol of state government that embodies the unique character, spirit and heritage of Oregon. The Capitol is inviting, accessible and safe, while being a symbol of environmental sustainability, with long-term flexibility for growth and change."

The plan provides for additional legislative hearing rooms wired to allow live streaming on the Internet, improved access for disabled persons and fortification to withstand earthquakes (a quake about 10 years ago almost brought the "gold man" down from his perch atop the Capitol dome. The plan also would "establish and implement a strategy to become the most environmentally sustainable Capitol in the United States."

One of the most striking features of the plan is creating a light-filled and more usable lower floor.

The devil, as always, will be in the details. The toughest devil will be how to finance the improvements, especially when Capitol remodeling will compete for financing authority with every other long-term development, including new higher education facilities, the Columbia River Crossing, mass transit improvements and every other topic under the sun.

The Master Plan Committee, so far at least, has not dealt with the details of a financing package.

I addressed the group last month about "publicity and public relations" for the project and made four points:

  • The most effective public relations "is to do a good job and get credit for it" – or, stated another way, provide information on the plan to the public, lawmakers and opinion-shapers.
  • Make sure you deal with the need for Capitol improvements before you talk about the solution.
  • Conduct surveys, hold forums around the state, schedule focus groups and use other methods to make sure you listen to public expectations.
  • Recognize you have an obligation to communicate with the public about a new "government" project.

It is not clear how the Capitol remodel will compete for dollars in a tough, tight economic environment. But I was impressed with the committee's intention, in all its recommends, to keep the Capitol "as a people's place," one of Oregon's historic landmarks.