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A painter rappels down from the top of the Colorado Capitol building in Denver on Aug. 16, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

If you’ve been in downtown Denver recently you’ve probably seen the breathtaking sight that’s caused a lot of craning necks and puzzled looks: workers hanging from the towering Colorado Capitol’s gold dome, making the structure look like a climbing wall. 

The Colorado Sun, too, wondered why people are rappelling from the 18-story Capitol building. It turns out they’re touching up work that began almost a decade ago.

In 2010, the state embarked on a $16 million project to restore the Capitol’s gold dome, built in the 1890s, and protect one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions. The work, which lasted four years and hid the dome in a cocoon of scaffolding, was initiated after a piece of cast iron fell onto the public observation deck in 2006. 

Like any good investment, the work came with a 25-year warranty. And now, five years after the project was completed, Colorado is cashing in. 

The people rappelling down the dome are simply doing maintenance on the structure’s painted elements. While it might look like they are treating the gold (yes, that’s really gold) in some way, the work is limited to the trim that makes the building shine. 

A crew completes restoration work on the dome of the Colorado Capitol on July 26, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

“We have an obligation, as part of making sure the dome does not deteriorate like it did in the past, to identify and correct issues that we might see so we don’t have that kind of deterioration again,” said Doug Platt, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration.

Because the work falls under the warranty, the cost is $0. 

“It’s not costing the taxpayers anything,” Platt said.

The work began in June and is expected to be complete by the middle of September, long before Colorado lawmakers return to the Capitol for the 2020 legislative session in January. 

A painter rappels down from the top of the Colorado Capitol building in Denver on Aug. 16, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

As for the brush-wielding workers, they are professional painters who are qualified climbers as well. They declined through the state to speak with The Sun.

“They basically use technical climbing equipment,” Platt said, explaining that there are mounts on the dome that they hook in to. 

This latest project is much less intensive than the big overhaul, which required basically removing the gold dome piece by piece and then rebuilding it from scratch. (Fun fact: Less than 70 ounces of gold was used to cover the dome, rolled very thin and gilded to copper to cover the entire area.

And while it might look like the dome is changing colors during the rehab work — the white base layer of paint on the building now is throwing those who know the building well for a loop — it’s expected to still be the same mighty gold and gray-colored beacon that it’s always been. 

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...