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Alfredo Ramirez, left, and Martin Savalla load pieces of limestone and concrete from the North Dakota Capitol sign into a bucket for disposal on Monday morning on the state Capitol grounds in Bismarck. Backhoe operator Logan Thompson said the old sign that had been on Boulevard Avenue in front of the Capitol since the 1960s was being replaced but in a different location. "They saved the emblem and the lettering and the rest is going into the garbage," Thompson said.

Renderings for remodeling the North Dakota Capitol's only public entrance will come before a state board this fall as the project nears construction in 2020.

Next week, Capitol Facilities Management Director John Boyle and other facility management personnel will review architect J2 Studio's four renderings of conceptual designs for the project. The architectural team will later bring the designs to the Capitol Grounds Planning Commission, which will choose a design for the south entrance to the building.

The commission, chaired by Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, could meet as soon as late October, Boyle said. The meeting will be open to the public. 

The timeline is to bid the project in January or February, begin construction in April and wrap up before the next legislative session convenes in January 2021.

The entrance, in a driveway tunnel closed to traffic since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, is the only public entry to the state Capitol. The North Dakota Highway Patrol, which provides security to the Capitol, closed the building's east, west and north entries to the public in 2016 due to security concerns amid the ongoing Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

The 2019 Legislature budgeted $2 million for the project to improve the entry's accessibility for visitors who might not know where to go and to shield against windy and wintry weather.

"It's just a terrible entrance," Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, previously said. "The people who work there on security, they freeze. They wear jackets and gloves."

The general plan is to enclose the tunnel and convert its drive lanes to landscaping and sidewalks. Boyle called the remodel "a landmark project," but said it won't drastically affect the architecture of the Capitol, completed in 1934. The Capitol's steps, which lead over the tunnel to closed doors into Memorial Hall, will remain.

"When we're done, it'll be like it's always been that way," Boyle said.

The project will incorporate any recommendations from a Capitol accessibility study brought by the 2019 Legislature, according to Boyle. He is forming a six-person work group to do a walk-through of the Capitol and write a report for the legislative study.

Highway Patrol has not yet decided where visitors to the Capitol will be redirected during construction next year.

"We have not had that discussion," said Sgt. Tim Coughlin, director of security at the Capitol.

A separate project to install a new sign for the Capitol on the extreme south end of the grounds is to be completed by year's end.

The previous limestone sign, dating to the 1960s and racked by erosion and discoloration, was removed Monday. It will be replaced with a larger sign matching the Capitol's limestone and granite exterior.

Its cost is about $196,000 from a previous appropriation, according to Boyle.

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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Capitol Reporter