Colorado lawmakers contemplate Capitol fencing, replacing statue

capitol statue union soldier
Posted at 6:41 PM, Feb 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-18 20:41:09-05

Colorado lawmakers are still contemplating what to do with the statue of a Union soldier that was torn down during the social justice protests of 2020.

The monument, which sat on the west steps of the capitol since 1909, honored the Union soldiers who took part in the Civil War.

However, that same calvary was involved in the Sand Creek Massacre, where hundreds of Indigenous men, women and children were murdered.

Since being torn down by protesters in 2020, the monument has been cleaned and moved to History Colorado, where it is now displayed in the atrium with several placards explaining the monument’s full history.

“I think it was a bold decision. As far as we know, at this point, we're one of the only museums that have actually done this,” said Sam Bock, a historian and exhibit developer with History Colorado. “We really wanted to lean into the controversy, and we wanted to give people an appropriate, safe place to come and learn about the history.”

Along the wall next to the monument, there’s a simple question posted: Do we need monuments? What do you think their purpose should be?

Surrounding that question there are hundreds of sticky notes with people sharing their opinions.

“What we learn from our visitors is that they don't want to erase the past. They don't want just to sort of ignore the more difficult parts of our nation's history. They want to embrace the process of learning,” Bock said.

The museum wants to spark an honest conversation about how to strike a balance between remembering history and putting it into context.

“It's no surprise that for a really long time in this country, history has been presented from one viewpoint, and now, you know, we're really looking around different opportunities to tell a fuller story,” Bock said.

Bock took those comments to the Capitol building advisory committee Friday as state lawmakers contemplate what the future of the statue should be.

For more than a year, the statue has been in a limbo of sorts as lawmakers debate where it should go. That limbo continued Friday; lawmakers decided to publish a letter and seek more public comment from veterans’ groups.

The committee also debated the possibility of putting a fence up around the Capitol. The building sustained more than $1 million in damage during the same social justice protests where the Union soldier monument was torn down.

“It was an emotional experience. Those of us who care for the capitopl, the all the folks in the Department of Personnel whose responsibility it is to care for this building, we hurt,” said Doug Platt, a communications manager with the Department of Personnel Administration.

Along with graffiti, numerous windows, light fixtures, security cameras and doors were damaged in the protest.

“The graffiti damage, it was very complex. Different types of paint and where it was applied on different sides of the building had an effect on how cleanable it was,” Platt said.

Some of that restoration work is still underway. Ever since those protests, lawmakers have been debating the idea of adding fencing around the building itself.

The committee took a trip outside the building to take a closer look at a small section of fence that served as a mockup for what could potentially be erected.

The metal design stood about six feet high. Committee Chair Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Jefferson, expressed some concerns about the finials and Colorado crest on the design.

The challenge with constructing a fence is striking a balance between protecting the building and making it accessible to the public.

The committee also wants to find a design that is fitting for the building’s historical design and integrity.

“We're talking about making sure that we allow the access, that we make people feel welcome here, but yet address the historic character of this property. We talk about access, and we talk about the security and balancing those two elements,” Platt said.

The committee has consulted historic experts and architects on the matter. For now, though, it’s back to the design stages for a fence. Once a design is approved, the Joint Budget Committee will need to sign off on funding for it.