Indiana Statehouse’s $12.5M repair project includes cleaning the dome


By Niki Kelly, Indiana Capital Chronicle

Workers this week assembled a massive crane outside the Statehouse for a $12.5 million project that includes cleaning the copper dome.

The crane, which is 400 feet long when laying flat, will be used to help erect scaffolding around the mammoth building.

According to a State Budget Committee agenda, the project is the fourth phase of work on the Statehouse exterior. The first three phases addressed the four sides of building, including removing all deteriorated sections of the façade and stairways, rebuilding all damaged stairways, rehabbing the doors and entryways, cleaning and repairing the limestone façade, replacing joint seals, and installing water infiltration barriers under the staircases on each side. The collective cost of those phases was $10.8 million.

The last phase will focus on the roofline and include gutter repair, chimney masonry work, rotunda masonry work and cleaning, window replacement/repair, limited patching and repair of the roof where needed, and, finally, cleaning of the copper dome.

According to a 1964 Indianapolis Star article, the two-tiered dome reaches 243 feet above the ground. The smaller one, 15 feet in diameter, sits on top of the large copper dome that is 73 feet in diameter.

At one point, the state applied gold leaf to the dome.

“An increase in the cost of gold leaf eventually forced officials to settle for a copper dome, but the memory of a gold leaf lingered on,” the article said. “Governors and citizens who demanded a cleaner and more attractive Statehouse continually talked about gilding the dome to add color to the soiled stone building.”

That’s because pigeons loved the building. At one point efforts to kill the pigeons left the dome punctured with buckshot. “Unsightly” tar patches covered the holes.

State officials in 1964 decided to sandblast the dome and try again with the gold but the leafing was too expensive, at $17,000. And it would last only five years, the reported. Instead, officials used gold enamel paint costing $25 per gallon, and 20 gallons of it covered both tiers of the dome and the flagpole.

Local history buff Libby Cierzniak said the dome was reclad in copper in 1978. The natural weathering of copper changes it to the characteristic blue-green or gray-green patina.

Indiana Capital Chronicle Senior Reporter Casey Smith contributed to this story.