CHEYENNE – The state’s chief education officer hopes that one day, every K-12 student in Wyoming will visit the state Capitol not once, but twice before graduation.

On Wednesday, Jillian Balow, state superintendent of public instruction and a co-chair of the Capitol Interpretative Exhibits and Wayfinding Subcommittee created by the Legislature in 2021, gave an update to the State Building Commission on the Capitol that visitors may see post-2024. The subcommittee’s work, she said, is aimed at creating an engaged citizenry.

“Wyoming is one of the only places where everyone who enters the Capitol has a really good chance of meeting the governor, or another elected official, of seeing lawmaking in action,” Balow said. “We want to share that.”

The subcommittee worked from 2015 plans created by the Capitol Square oversight group to develop conceptual design for future exhibits at the Capitol, with a keen eye toward student visitors.

“We have dreamed, we have discussed, we have pared projects down,” Balow said. “We want to portray and share ‘The People’s House’ as not a place for insiders, but a place for Wyoming’s people. The next goal is to prepare future leaders, with a keen eye on student visits.

“My goal is to make sure that every student in K-12 across the state visits the state Capitol at least twice during their K-12 education,” Balow continued.

When the Legislature first started looking at renovating the state Capitol six years ago, Balow said the priority was to finish the building so Wyoming could do the business of the state, as intended.

“Today, we are doing that, and now the goal is to make sure that the business of Wyoming’s people carries on from generation to generation, and acts as an inspiration and an aspiration for every student and adult who enters the Capitol,” Balow said.

Balow told the committee that there is a difference between interpretive exhibits and wayfinding, and while interpretive exhibits were a part of preliminary plans, wayfinding was not.

Interpretation is how visitors gain knowledge and how meaning is revealed, she said. Strong interpretive exhibits can build excitement in the history of Wyoming civics, Balow said.

“It is emotional, and it is long lasting, and it is a connection that visitors make to the Capitol and make to the state of Wyoming, and take with them. We hope that is lifelong,” she said.

Wayfinding is how visitors find their way through a building, she said, from those looking for an ADA-compliant entrance to someone who enters the building while on a walk looking for the bathroom.

In 2015, wayfinding was not contemplated in the design plan.

Gov. Mark Gordon, who sits on the State Building Commission along with the other four top elected officials, said he hopes interpretive exhibits could be engaging and timely.

“It has been a concern of mine from the beginning … that we not make it feel like a museum, but that we make it feel more like it is a living exhibit and opportunity to engage across Wyoming,” Gordon said. “With that in mind … my concern is that, first and foremost, that we not end up with exhibits that end up stale after a few years.”

Balow said the subcommittee has a similar goal, and has discussed the difference between static and dynamic, or interactive exhibits, as well as the benefits of high-tech versus low-tech exhibits.

“We have had conversations about keeping things up to date, modern, engaging,” she said.

Suzanne Norton, who serves as the State Building Commission secretary, said that in 2017, the state created a preliminary project cost summary that was just under $4 million. That number did not contemplate wayfinding, and it did not contemplate other contracting standards, Norton said.

Today, the subcommittee anticipates a budget not to exceed $8,153,021. The governor asked what the cost to maintain, curate and update the exhibits for future generations may be.

“We may need some stakeholders to participate,” Norton said, adding that all ideas will be explored, including applying for National Historic Landmark status.

“Perhaps we could write some funding for a federal grant for the National Park Service to provide more value to our National Historic Landmark,” she said. “We are ready and willing to look at it from all aspects of brainstorming.”

Gordon called the $8 million estimate a surprise.

“This is a little bit of a surprise number, a little bit bigger than anybody anticipated,” he said. “But I also think it is important to do correctly, putting it into the context of the other needs of the state.”

Norton said that the estimate is about 2.5% of the total Capitol Square renovation costs, and when it comes to wayfinding, the current layout of the Capitol is confusing.

“Certainly, the wayfinding will orient visitors so they have a better sense of where they are. Right now, it is very confusing. I have spent many, many days in this facility, and even occasionally I will say, ‘That’s the wrong hallway I meant to take,’” Norton said.

The more intuitive the hallways are, and where the exits are, also enhances public safety, Norton said. Gordon also asked the subcommittee if it could take into account the various types of visitors the Capitol receives.

“Normally, we want to have school groups feel comfortable, and parents come through, happy and so on,” Gordon said. “But the events that have happened over the last year, certainly, are things that we should bear in mind.

“I don’t know if there is a part of this conversation of this project, if there is a way to think about – how do we make sure that we have dispersed groups, or if we have groups that are going to assemble in a particularly important area of the Capitol for whatever reason it might be, that we at least anticipate how that is going to look,” Gordon said.

The project is in the discovery and kickoff phase, with conceptual design up next. Complete installation is anticipated before the 2024 legislative session, and each design phase will include an opportunity for public review and input.

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