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Washing dirt from the dome

Wed., Aug. 15, 2012, midnight

Workers from Western Waterproofing Co. of Seattle clean the dome of the state Capitol on Tuesday. (Jim Camden)
Workers from Western Waterproofing Co. of Seattle clean the dome of the state Capitol on Tuesday. (Jim Camden)

Capitol gets first bath since ’04

OLYMPIA – Things are looking up at the Capitol. Up to the dome, that is, where a $1.1 million restoration project is cleaning off some eight years of grime, mold and moss on the outside surfaces of masonry and sandstone.

The cleanup, scheduled to continue through November, was delayed briefly last week when one of the platforms holding two workers gave way about 40 feet off the ground just as they were preparing to pressure-wash part of the building. The workers were wearing safety harnesses and were unharmed, although one was suspended in the air for a couple of minutes until a co-worker pulled him back to the fourth-floor roof.

Work stopped until all the equipment was checked and workers received additional safety training.

This week, some workers from Western Waterproofing Co. of Seattle, the contractor hired for the cleanup, seem to be rappelling down the dome on their way to cages attached to ropes that snake down the curved sides. Others are making their way along narrow ledges, power-washing or hand-scrubbing the many curves and crevices on the exterior ornamentation.

The Legislative Building, the official name of the domed structure that houses both chambers of the Legislature as well as the office of the governor and several other state officials, had been routinely cleaned every four years, said Steve Valandra, a spokesman for the Department of Enterprise Services. But its last cleaning was in 2004, at the end of a major renovation of the building required after the 2001 Nisqually earthquake.

“The Legislature had other priorities during the worst of the budget sessions following the crash in 2008,” Valandra said in an email.

Before cleaning the sandstone exterior below the dome, the contractor had to test slabs of stone to find the right water pressure that would clean without damaging it. Along with cleaning off the dirt, moss and lichen that thrives in the damp Puget Sound climate, they’ll also be repairing sandstone and replacing mortar damaged by the winter freeze and thaw cycles.

The Capitol was completed in 1928. Its price tag at the time – $6.8 million for the building and almost $600,000 more for the furnishings – was considered outrageous by some, including then-Gov. Roland Hartley, who called it a “monument to extravagance.”

After the Nisqually quake, the state spent about $120 million restoring the building and updating its heating, plumbing and electrical systems and upgrading security and seismic protections.

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