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The Nebraska State Capitol is in the process of a major Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Replacement Project. When the Capitol was built (1922-32), the architect, Bertram Goodhue, used steam radiator technology to heat the over 100,000 square feet of the stone structure. The steam was generated at the University of Nebraska’s power plant and brought to the Capitol via a mile long tunnel. In the 1960s the original system was modified to also accept chilled water from the University so that offices could be cooled in an attempt to make summers more comfortable. Over the years, the radiator technology began to have multiple operational problems. The Legislature addressed the problem by appropriating funds to replace the system, and in 2016, the Office of the Capitol Commission began the ten-year HVAC project. The project is intended to incorporate the best of the old system with the latest technology.
First, there was a two-year planning phase, which is nearly complete, and we will soon move to the eight-year construction phase. There will need to be extensive work done inside the Capitol building that will begin this summer. This will require contractors to remove outdated ducts and pipes, resulting in major demolition and reconstruction work. All areas of the Capitol will have to be vacated at some point.
As chairperson of the Legislature’s Executive Board, I have worked with the Executive and Judicial branches of government to plan for the impact of the construction on government offices within the Capitol and their relocation. We determined that the most efficient way to proceed is to vacate a quarter of the building at a time, resulting in a five-phase project. This approach will allow the Capitol to continue to function on a daily basis as the seat of State Government.
For Legislative offices, the plan provides that all senators and his or her staff will have office space in the Capitol throughout the project. However, their offices will be temporarily relocated at some point, with some being relocated for more than one phase. Legislative support functions, including the Clerk’s Office, the Fiscal Office, the Bill Drafting Office, the Legislative Research Office, and the Accounting Office will also be relocated to different areas within the Capitol. The support offices that will be located outside the Capitol for the duration of the project are the Ombudsman, Transcribers, and Performance Audit. Following adjournment of the Legislature on April 18, 2018, senators’ offices in the southwest quadrant of the Capitol will be the first to be vacated and moved.
The plan also ensures that the Legislature can continue to meet in the George Norris Legislative Chamber during session and that all public hearings on legislation will be held in hearing rooms within the Capitol.
The next visible phase of the HVAC project will be construction of the well field for the ground-source heating and cooling system. A state surface parking lot near the Capitol will become a geothermal well drilling site on June 1, 2018. The construction of the well field is expected to take 15 months. The work on the Capitol grounds will become visible through a combination of open trenching and directional boring.
The HVAC project is complicated, especially in a building of the age and size of the Capitol. However, everyone involved in the project is committed to preserving the integrity of our beautiful State Capitol. As noted by the Nebraska Capitol Commission in 1935: “It is difficult for Nebraska to realize what it has done, but the people of your nation know, and they look to you for careful preservation of what has become a jewel among Historic Monuments.”
As we begin the final weeks of this legislative session, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.