Kansans unwrap state birthday present years in the making

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TOPEKA, Kan. -- The business of state government in Kansas was ground to a halt on Wednesday, for 90 minutes at least. Battles over budgets and bills gave way to a festive celebration of the Sunflower State's 153rd birthday, with a very nice "present" to unwrap.

The moment was nearly 14 years and all of $332 million in the making. A state capitol makeover legions of lawmakers, leaders and four governors oversaw. Inside and out, restoring the Kansas capitol on 20 acres of land donated by Cyrus K. Holliday back in 1862 proved to be a major effort.

A band-aid approach to maintenance left it badly in disrepair. Now finished, and dedicated, the building is a source of pride with an emphasis on highlighting history for visitors, including school kids and future politicians.

“I think now it’s an amazing building, and I’ve been to the U.S. Capitol, and I really think that this one definitely gives the U.S. Capitol a run for its money,” legislative intern Stephonn Alcorn said.

Perhaps the crown jewel, a new visitor’s center, teeming with the state's history. The center is perfect for school field trips and more. Governor Sam Brownback gave his special guest, the granddaughter of Kansan and former President Dwight Eisenhower, a post ceremony tour that included a stop at Ike's statue.

Mary Eisenhower said her granddad would be proud.

“I think he’d be very deeply touched, fundamentally touched. It’s wonderful because he loved this state so much,” Eisenhower said.

The massive project was not without its critics. Why spend money on a building when Kansans need money for schools, highways, basics?

“Criticism well placed. It’s expensive and it took a long time. But at the end of the day, you have fabulous, fabulous building,” Gov.Brownback said. “So I think most people look at it and say, ‘Okay I get it now,’ even though at the time it cost a lot of money.”

Kansas City's JE Dunn Construction oversaw the project. The original capitol was built for around $3 million, this project cost more than $300 million.

Wednesday’s dedication also included a birthday song, led by a voice celebrants won’t soon forget.

Wintley Phipps led the crowd in the singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ at the Kansas Statehouse. He is a world-renowned vocal artist and minister who sings Christian and Gospel music.

Phipps earned Grammy Award nominations back in the 1980's for his work. He just happened to be travelling to Manhattan for a speech on Wednesday night and called the governor, whom he'd met in Washington, and was added to the program at the last-minute.

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