The Capitol building in Denver, the seat of Colorado state government, has stood for months now as a monument to the Black Lives Matter protests that broke out in May, with anti-police messages tagged all over the building and the grounds, windows broken or boarded up, and an empty space where a statue of a soldier stood for more than a century.
As cleanup gets under way, Colorado lawmakers are also discussing ways to better protect the 126-year-old building in the future, including possibly fortifying it with metal gates, bulletproof windows and a system of sensors that detect broken glass.
Those are among the security enhancements that the state Department of Administration and Personnel is now assessing, Director Kara Veitch told legislative leaders during a meeting Tuesday at the Capitol.
“We know the destruction to the buildings and graffiti is disheartening,” Veitch said, assuring the lawmakers that the state is on top of the cleanup, even though a significant amount of spray paint remains on the building and some broken windows have not been repaired.
Paint has sunk in so deeply that it requires several rounds of treatment. Veitch said officials considered using lasers and dry ice to clean off the Capitol before settling on a chemical treatment.
The building grounds have played host to countless protests since late May, following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, and for a period the Capitol was being tagged with spray paint on a daily basis. That has slowed down recently, Veitch said, with little or no new graffiti documented in the last week. She said graffiti removal work continues, and all broken glass at the building is expected to be replaced by the end of September.
The latest estimates are that Capitol cleanup efforts will cost about $1 million, she said. New security measures could add to the cost.
Details were discussed Tuesday in a closed-door session Veitch and other officials had with the Capitol’s Executive Committee, which comprises leaders from both parties in the state House and Senate.
“We were talking about Capitol security, what are the vulnerabilities, what are the needs. It’s a security issue so it needed to be addressed confidentially,” said House Speaker KC Becker, who chairs the Executive Committee.
Outcry from officials over vandalism at the Capitol has mostly come from Republicans, though Democratic Gov. Jared Polis recently condemned it when asked about it at a press conference.
“It’s certainly been an aggravating few months,” said GOP Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker.
Becker, a Democrat from Boulder, said that her party cares but has been focused on other priorities.
“I think the appearance at the Capitol matters to Republicans and Democrats alike, and the safety, security and integrity of this building matters to Democrats and Republicans alike. I was getting inquiries from both about the status of the Capitol building, but from the time the protests happened, we’ve been much more interested in the message of the protesters than the impacts of the graffiti.”
In addition to damaging the building, protesters also toppled a statue of a Civil War solider that sat just outside the Capitol, to the west, from 1909 until June. A plaque on that statue commemorated more than 20 different events, most of which were battles against Confederate soldiers. But four of them were massacres of Native Americans, including at Sand Creek.
The statue is being held in storage, Veitch said, and it may not return to the Capitol Grounds. The organization History Colorado has reached out about putting it on museum display.
The eventual placement of the statue, as well as other cosmetic decisions about the Capitol, will be up to the Executive Committee, Becker said. There’s no timeline for final votes, but she said she expects they will occur in the coming months, ahead of a 2021 legislative session currently slated to begin in January.
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