Dirty dome blamed for Washington Capitol leaks

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - The iconic state Capitol Building is not only dirtier than usual, it's leaking, too.

A two-man inspection crew roped up and rappelled down the flanks of the Capitol Dome on Wednesday, looking for places water could be seeping into the historic structure.

It's possible that postponing cleaning of the Capitol Building due to state budget cuts has made the building more prone to leaks, noted state Department of Enterprise Services spokesman Jim Erskine.

Typically, the state Capitol is scrubbed clean every five years. But the 2009 maintenance was put on hold to save the state money.

The last time the sandstone structure and the other historic buildings on the Capitol Campus were cleaned, in 2004, it cost the state $5 million, including $2 million for the Capitol.

It's possible that the mold and grime that is accumulating on the Capitol is settling in and widening cracks in the exterior mortar, creating pathways for water to enter the building, Erskine said.

"They (building managers) are concerned that what started as an aesthetics problem could cause damage to the sandstone," Erskine said.

When the 1924 building was repaired after the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, not all the exterior mortar was refurbished. Leaks started to show in the four mini-domes beneath the large dome columns in the winter of 2004-05, Erskine said.

More significant leaks were detected in the winter of 2007, leading to water stains and repairs to several office walls in the building. Since then, water has been spotted everywhere from the sixth floor elevator shaft to the garage below the building, Erskine said.

"What's worrisome is that the leaks seem to be increasing," he said.

The state Legislature set aside nearly $1 million in the 2011-13 state capital budget to inspect the Capitol Building and commence repairs.

The state hired SHKA Architects of Seattle to conduct the inspection and submit a report this month. Repair work should begin after the 2012 legislative session.

Enterprise Services is likely to seek funds in the 2013-15 budget to clean the Capitol Campus sandstone buildings.

State Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, said there will probably be legislative support in the next biennium for a cleaning of the historic buildings as a form of preventative maintenance.

"You sure notice the difference when the buildings are cleaned," Sheldon said. "The real issue is you need to take care of the cracks to prevent further damage to the building."
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