The amount of graffiti and other vandalism on the Colorado Capitol building and its grounds — which began to appear during late May protests of police violence — has increased almost daily since then.
So have frustrations about the lack of visible cleanup efforts.
A state official says an assessment of the damage and cleanup strategies is now underway. But given the challenges of dealing with a historic building and spray paint that’s had time to seep into the building’s granite walls, it’s unclear when the work will start or how much it will cost.
“The damage has slowed to a point where we can now go about evaluating exactly what it will take,” said Doug Platt, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration. The DPA includes Capitol Complex Facilities Management, which maintains the State Capitol and other nearby buildings.
Graffiti scrawled on the building and several monuments, much of it about the need for accountability for police officers and justice for victims of police brutality, reflects the messages of protests that began May 28. Demonstrators initially reacted to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, later focusing on local incidents.
But Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Sterling Republican, took exception to the many “vulgarities” that remain on the building in a letter he sent last week to Gov. Jared Polis, asking why cleanup hasn’t occurred more quickly. Several broken windows also remain boarded up.
“It’s not only a disgrace, it’s embarrassing,” he tweeted Wednesday, echoing his comments in a CBS4 story.
Polis’ office said Thursday that the Democratic governor, who appointed DPA Executive Director Kara Veitch, shares his concerns.
“While the governor supports free speech and the right to protest, he is outraged over damage to the Capitol,” spokesperson Conor Cahill wrote in an email. “He hopes that those responsible are apprehended. … The governor has expressed frustration over the slow rate of fixing up the Capitol and has directed that our Capitol is cleaned and washed as quickly as possible, and the building is further fortified.”
The granite walls of Colorado State Capitol building are covered in graffiti on Thursday, July 16, 2020.
But any attempts at cleanup have been slow going, in part because state officials figured there was little point until the recurring vandalism ended. In late June, protesters toppled a statue of a Union soldier atop a Civil War monument in front of the Capitol that includes a commemoration of the Sand Creek Massacre. Days later, others set a fire atop the pedestal of the graffiti-covered monument; police apprehended three people.
Denver Police Department spokesperson Christine Downs said DPD is still investigating two cases of Capitol vandalism. Police arrested a man June 27 in a third incident, in which a flag pole was damaged and the flag stolen.
Recent nights have seen less activity on the grounds, which Colorado State Patrol monitors around the clock but has been unable to protect from vandalism.
“We’re reaching out to contractors, and we’re also having to have contractors basically put together estimates of procedures, timeline, costs, those types of things,” Platt said. “We’re also having to deal with insurance — some of the costs of repairs will most likely be covered by an insurance claim.”
Workers are testing different methods of graffiti removal on the stonework, he said, calling the scope of the vandalism unprecedented — far beyond the occasional tagging that occurred during the Occupy Denver protests in 2011 and 2012.
“The granite is somewhat porous, so depending on what was used to paint the building … we have to evaluate the best process,” Platt said. “It’s not the kind of thing where you can just come with a wire brush and scrape it off, because that will damage the finish or the granite itself.”
He declined to speculate on how long cleanup will take or estimate the expense, saying the department was “moving forward as cautiously and responsibly as we can.”
Late last month, a Denver city spokesperson said vandalism to city-owned property across Civic Center during the protests was estimated at just over $1 million.
Workers recently erected fencing along the east side of the Capitol for the latest phase of a multiyear project to restore windows and clean granite. Platt said project-related fencing soon will expand to surround much of the building, which may help prevent more graffiti while the state executes a removal plan.
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