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Third-grader sings praises of Minnesota Capitol as grand opening of renovation begins

Dozens attended the Capitol Blessing and Ribbon Cutting for the Grand Opening of the Capitol. (S. M. Chavey / Pioneer Press)1 / 2
Hope Anderson S.M. Chavey / St. Paul Pioneer Press2 / 2

ST. PAUL—The first major speech at the Capitol building's grand opening Friday was given by a third-grader.

"I think when people come here from different countries or states they see the Capitol building and it looks like a safe place to be and it makes them feel good about Minnesota and they hope to live here someday," Hope Anderson said in her speech.

From Homecroft Elementary in Duluth, she was the winner of the third- through fifth-grade Grand Opening Essay Contest. Her head barely rose above the lectern as she spoke.

The $310 million, four-year restoration was primarily finished in January when the Capitol was reopened, but the grand opening was scheduled for August so finishing touches would be complete.

Friday morning kicked off the event with a Capitol Blessing and Ribbon cutting. In between speeches given by dignitaries and politicians, Anderson and the two other essay competition winners spoke about their personal connection to the Capitol and the history that's made there.

"I think that one thing that might change at the Capitol in the future is there might be a woman governor. Maybe me!" Anderson said in her speech.

Longtime Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, told Anderson she'd work as her campaign manager during her governmental run.

As a member of the legislature for 41 years, Murphy said she remembers the "crumbling Capitol" well.

"When I got here, the women had to leave the House chamber and go to the public restroom way down the hall. The lobbyists would follow you and I thought 'this is so wrong.' The men had one right in the back," Murphy said.

After many complaints, a janitor's closet was turned into a one-stall restroom just 20 feet away, but women still had to leave the House chambers to get to it.

"Now, it's so wonderful because where the men's washroom was in the chamber, now it's women. There's three stalls and it's beautiful. It's the best thing that I show people," Murphy said. "And the men have to walk across the room and out the Republican door and down the hallway before they find their new restroom."

Access to women's restrooms was just one of many problems. Others included cracked marble, a leaky roof, insufficient plumbing, poor air quality, crammed offices for the press and limited public access.

Josie Johnson, an educator, activist and administrator, worked in the Capitol as a lobbyist in the '60s. Seeing it now, she said she's in awe of its beauty.

"I am so impressed with our building. I have never seen it this clean," Johnson said. Her only criticism was the lack of African-American representation.

"It's African-Americans who have worked so hard to do so much good, and they need to know it," Johnson said.

The restoration required politicians to set politics aside and work as a united team, according to many speakers.

"Single voices became a chorus as legislators came together to see that this was done," Rep. Dean Urdahl said in his speech.

In addition to the ceremony Friday morning, the grand opening schedule also includes tours, a kid zone, music, fireworks and more. Numerous employees of the Minnesota Historical Society, responsible for giving tours, said the first tour Friday most likely had about 200 people.

Against a bright blue sky, the Capitol's white and gold colors were a fitting backdrop for speakers to discuss the makeover, the work required to complete it and what it represents.

"The building really is a symbol," Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said. "It's what happens inside that changes the lives of Minnesotans."

SATURDAY, AUG. 12

10 a.m. "Our Minnesota State Capitol" book signing by author Dennis Gardener

11 a.m. Panel discussion with former Vice President Walter Mondale and former Gov. Al Quie

2 p.m. Women's leadership panel discussion

7 p.m. Musical performances by Cloud Cult and Polica

9:30 p.m. Fireworks show

SUNDAY, AUG. 13

10 a.m. Panel discussion on the Minnesota Native American experience

11 a.m. Student panel on legislative engagement

1 p.m. "Bring the Sing" community sing-along on the Capitol lawn

2:30 p.m. Capitol workers' memorial plaque dedication

3 p.m. Capitol workers' appreciation ice cream social and celebration

6 p.m. Sounds of Blackness musical performance

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