History & Architecture

Capital Complex Future Plans
by Doug Finke, State Journal-Register

Within a few years, the face of the Capitol complex in downtown Springfield could be reshaped.

It could include a major new state office building, demolition of one or more existing buildings and more green space.

Or it could look pretty much the same as today – if a lack of funding scuttles plans for the area, as has happened so often has in the past.

One thing is clear, through. Given the money, state officials would like to see major changes in the area bounded by the Third Street railroad corridor and Washington, Cook and Pasfield streets.

“I think overall the layout of the campus can be improved,” said Capitol Architect Don McLarty. “There’s not any green space. Pedestrian circulation, parking. All of that needs to be improved.”

Toward that end, the state hired DeStefano and Partners Ltd. of Chicago, along with urban planning experts Wallace Roberts & Todd of Philadelphia, to analyze what works and what doesn’t in the Capitol complex and develop a master plan to guide development for years to come. It’s projected the entire planning effort will cost about $4 million.

A component of the project is what to do about the Stratton Office Building, the hulking edifice just west of the Capitol the House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, once famously described as “Salinesque” in its aesthetics. What finally happens with the Stratton Building could radically alter the appearance of the complex.

“We’re doing a complete analysis to look at what it’s costing to operate the building, what it would take to repair it and bring it up to (modern building) code and what it would cost to replace the building,” McLarty said.

The study is due February. However, a proposed capitol program for the state contains $100 million to either fix or replace the Stratton.

Some space in the Stratton is set aside for sate representatives to use while they are in Springfield, and many of them have made it clear they want out.

The building is loaded with asbestos, the windows leak, the hearing and air conditioning system is decrepit, the electrical system needs upgrading for modern office equipment, and the building does not meet requirements for disabled access for life safety codes.

“We can’t just continue to pour money into this building. There’s so much wrong with it,” said Jan Grimes, director of the Capitol Development Board.

The state just spent $579,000 to secure limestone panels on the outside of the Stratton because they were in danger of falling off the building.

If state officials decide to replace the Stratton, they will have to find a location for a new building. It presumably would be close to the Capitol Building itself.

Although demolition is an option, it would be expensive, because the asbestos would have to be removed before the building could be razed.

At some point, the state also will have to decide the fate of the Armory building, which until recently served as headquarters for the Illinois State Police. All but about 50 ISP employees have moved to the former AIG insurance building in Springfield.

The rest – who work with the evidence vault and the ISP computer system – will move as soon as space is prepared at the new site, said ISP spokesman Scott Compton.

Once the building is vacated, the state will take steps to prevent further deterioration, Grimes said. As with the Stratton Building, it would take millions of dollars to make the Armory acceptable office space.

“It’s dilemma you have with so many buildings like that,” McLarty said. “They are historic, but they’re places that are awkward to work with. It’s finding the right way to utilize the building. Right now, I don’t know of anybody who can answer that.”

A couple of blocks west of the Armory, at 222 S. College St., is another building whose fate is already decided.

Best know in Springfield as the former home of Play It Again Sam’s bar, once a favorite hangout of lawmakers, the building is now used for state offices. At least for now.

“That building is past its life span. Everybody recognizes that,” McLarty said. “The building is going to go away. It is just bad news.”

So far, the 222 S. College building has been spared because the state doesn’t have the money to demolish it.

During the next few years, the state will spend about $65 million on the Capitol itself, although the public won’t see how the money is being sent. It’s part of a multi-year project to replace the hearing and ventilating system in the Capitol.

“They’re getting rid of systems that are about ready to fall apart,” McLarty said.

There will be benefit to taxpayers, though. McLarty said the new system will be much more energy efficient, and the improved ventilation system will help preserve artwork and the elaborate painting and plaster ornamentation throughout the building.

The state is gradually restoring public areas of the building to their original appearance, with historical correct colors and stenciling.

The Capitol’s third floor and the first-floor rotunda areas are completed. The first floor’s south corridor is next in line. More areas will be completed as money is available, McLarty said.

Improving the Capital complex’s appearance is one of McLarty’s goals, particularly by adding green space. One study showed that 40 percent of the surface area in the complex is taken up by parking. Another 25 percent is streets and sidewalks.

“All you have to do is stand and look out the window, and it’s parking lots as far as you can see,” McLarty said.

“One of the weaknesses (of the complex) is the abundance of asphalt we have surrounding all of the building. I think we need to green up the campus.”