Home Tile flooring The capital complex is the center of state government. It is also an aging infrastructure.

The capital complex is the center of state government. It is also an aging infrastructure.

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ALBANY – On a quiet Sunday this fall, a few large marble tiles fell from the ninth floor of the New York State Museum and landed in pieces on the sidewalk of Madison Avenue. Be glad you’re not nearby: each panel weighs hundreds of pounds.

Fortunately, no one was hurt – although the story might have been different if the tiles had fallen on a weekday, when state officials and tourists flocked to the streets. The site was barricaded and Albany firefighters rated the incident as “isolated.” The State General Service Office conducted an emergency inspection to determine if there were more widespread structural issues with the building – the southernmost outpost of an Empire State Plaza which celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Formerly known as the Cultural Education Center, the museum building will spend the winter – and possibly beyond – covered in scaffolding. “As a precaution,” the state is replacing every horizontal marble panel in the building, according to OGS spokesperson Joseph A. Brill.

As of mid-December, the project had no completion schedule or price, but the state is urgently working with contractors to address known issues. While the state regularly inspects the building, the metal fasteners that hold the panels in place “cannot be visually inspected without first removing the marble,” Brill said in a statement. The state then decided to remove all tiles due to “the amount of corrosion observed on the failed marble panel fasteners.”

In a year when Democrats in New York and across the country are focusing on infrastructure, Gov. Kathy Hochul and state officials will face questions about how much to invest in the Capitol and the aging Empire State. Plaza after years of deferred maintenance during the periodic economic downturns the state has faced over the past two decades.

The question of how much to spend on maintaining the seat of state government – from the colonnaded state education building (110 years) and the Capitol (122 years) to the modernist place the governor envisioned Nelson Rockefeller at the height of the Cold War – will be reconsidered as Democrats face a midterm election, Hochul is running for a full term, and voters across the state are still looking to get out of the other side of a pandemic that has left physical, mental and economic damage.

In other words: when roads, bridges, dams, and sewage systems require billions of dollars in upgrades, how much can New York City afford to spend on the center of its bureaucracy and democracy? ?

“Governor Hochul looks forward to a productive legislative session on Capitol Hill, and we will consider how best to ensure that the (State Museum) is safe for all,” spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays said in a statement.

At the other end of the complex, the challenge isn’t with the danger above the head, but the issues below: a few brief periods of full use.

The last signs “Danger” and “Do not enter” placed on the barricades explain: “Staircase closed due to structural instability. Entry is strictly prohibited ”.


The stairs present a potential safety risk when large groups congregate on the steps, Brill said, due to “years of water, salt and environmental wear and tear on the stairs.” They might look good, he admitted, but “the problems are underlying, including water leaks, cracks in the masonry, loose stones and deterioration of the mortar.”

State vehicles and other VIP vehicles continue to park under the steps in a restricted area; the route offers easy access to the Capitol’s ground floor, making it a preferred entry point for Executive Chamber staff members.

Theodore Roosevelt tied them together during his brief career as a state legislator, said former member of the state assembly and capital region historian Jack McEneny. The future governor and president would grant interviews to journalists who could climb the 77 steps with him.

“These steps have a story, which is legendary for what goes on and what goes up these steps,” McEneny said. “It must be preserved for the next generation.

OGS does not have a timeline on when the stages could open and cannot say whether the incoming windfall of federal infrastructure dollars will be available to repair the Capitol. The agency “continues to find the best way to resolve these issues,” Brill said.

This story appears in the Times Union’s new quarterly magazine devoted to the main trends driving the economy of the Capital Region.


McEneny was involved in the previous large-scale effort to modernize the Capitol, an effort that began under Governor George Pataki and ended during the first few years of Andrew Cuomo’s tenure. This effort saw extensive work on the famous Western Staircase and its skylight – which had been repainted since WWII, when it was feared that German bombers would use it as a beacon to target Watervliet’s arsenal. The final phase of the Capitol building opened up the upper portions of the east side of the Capitol, creating elegant spaces from what had been a maze of ugly hallways.

Much of the multi-phased project was organized by a commission, which met quarterly until the GSO stopped calling meetings. McEneny was a member.

Members of the Commission recall an estimate for the cost of repairs to the eastern access staircase that was developed about three years ago, but no one recalled the dollar amount. (The Times Union filed a FOIL request for any document.)

Former commission chair Julia Stokes of Saratoga County said she was not aware of anyone taking the job.

Stokes noted that in addition to the structural work needed on the exterior steps, there were larger issues related to the need for a safe exit to the east side of the building in an emergency, and substantial work that needed to be performed on the windows.

Despite the challenges, lawmakers working on Capitol Hill remain ambitious. Assembly member John McDonald, D-Cohoes, would like the building to become one of the first government centers in the country to run 100% on renewable energy.

He would like to see the former Albany New York solid waste energy recovery plant on Sheridan Avenue become the source of that energy. Accomplishing this would be a significant turnaround in the history of the plant – particularly the much-maligned period throughout Governor Mario Cuomo’s administration when an adjacent incinerator called the Albany New York Solid Waste Energy Recovery System (ANSWERS) was brought down. burned around 350 tonnes of trash each day, sending plumes of soot into what was then one of Albany’s most economically struggling neighborhoods.

Cuomo closed the plant in 1994 over community outrage. Its towering chimney fell in 2020, though the building remains – another aging infrastructure in a state complex teeming with it.


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