Stained glass removed from South Dakota capitol for the first ti - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Stained glass removed from South Dakota capitol for the first time in 115-year history

Stained glass on Senate ceiling will be removed after session Stained glass on Senate ceiling will be removed after session
South Dakota's capitol rotunda before glass was removed South Dakota's capitol rotunda before glass was removed
Capitol rotunda after glass was removed Capitol rotunda after glass was removed
PIERRE, S.D. (KTIV) - Inside South Dakota's state capitol, the focus is often on the House and Senate, but to truly appreciate what’s going on on the floor, you have to look up at the ceiling.

“Those features of stained glass are one of the more beautiful parts of the capitol,” said Mike Mueller of the South Dakota Bureau of Administration .

However, age and time have taken their toll.

"Because they're very large panels, it didn't have enough structural support to over time be able to support that glass now hanging in a horizontal position,” Mueller explained as he took us on a tour of the capitol.

The choices were clear, either remove or restore.

"Becoming a danger would happen sooner rather than later if we didn't do anything,” he said.

For the first time in the capitol building's 115-year history, the stained glass is being restored.  Doing so, at the cost of $2.7 million, is not an easy proposition.

How do you get glass that's been up there for 100 years, down to the ground?

"There's a lot of glass, and in order to do this, it has to be individually handled all the way along,” he said.

Crews used a truck wench to lower the glass, panel by panel, 96 feet from the top of the dome to the floor of the rotunda.

"It took five days to get all of the panels out of the rotunda,” said Mueller.

Sent to Conrad Schmitt Studios in Wisconsin, artists are disassembling, cleaning, and repairing the glass, all 14,816 pieces.

"There's a lot of decorative work within them, including some glass jewels. In total it's about 4,400 feet of stained glass. That's about the size of an NBA basketball court,” said Mueller.

After the session ends, they'll move on to the barrel vault above the grand staircase, and the ceiling of the House and Senate.

"It'll take more than 30,000 man hours to restore all of that stained glass,” Mueller stated.

"The stained glass panels above the Senate and House chambers actually open up. Back in the early 1900's they would use that skylight as air-conditioning, during those warm summer months,” Mueller said.

"The panels of the stained glass on the edge are intended to be lifted, so that they can then allow that heat rising to vent out the top of the building,” said Mueller.

To really understand the precarious process of removing the panels, we climbed above the senate floor. Through a secret door, up and up a narrow winding staircase, and in between the walls that carry the capital's secrets. Hints of the history surround us.

"This one's from 1933,” said Mueller, pointing to the brick wall filled with autographs from long ago.

Careening through the catacombs we arrived on the roof.

"This is what it looks like above the house,” pointed out Muller.

The rose colored panels match the chamber below.  Roofed over and now artificially lit, the glass is protected from the elements. Above the Senate, you can see the wear that gravity has had over 100 plus years.

"It's looks much like an accordion when you look over it, because it waves that bad. They're pulling away from that structural support that was added,” Mueller explained.

After our dizzying decent, we stopped for one last glance at the glass, knowing next time it will look as good as new.

The 14 month project started last August with the work on the dome and is expected to be finished in November, in time for the 125th anniversary celebration of South Dakota's statehood.

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