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Former state senators plan to give $1M for upkeep of Capitol courtyards

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After raising money to complete the restoration of the Capitol courtyards, the Nebraska Association of Former State Legislators has turned its eye to maintaining the features well into the future.

The organization will ask the Office of the Nebraska Capitol Commission next week to accept a $1 million gift to create an endowment to maintain the courtyards when they are finished, former Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege said.

Carlson said the former state senators raised $1 million among themselves as well as people without any ties to state government who felt "keeping the Capitol nice is a worthy expenditure."

"As former legislators, we have a special feeling for that place," he said. "It needs to be something the people of Nebraska are proud of and take great pride in as well."

If the Capitol Commission accepts the gift at its meeting next Thursday, the former state senators said money from the endowment will be used to cover the costs of work in the gardens, which is estimated to be about $40,000 annually.

It would cover the cost of cutting back roses and perennials in April, applying herbicide and spreading mulch throughout the four courtyards, as well as regular work cleaning up the gardens through the summer months.

The endowed funds also will pay for the planting of 1,096 petunias each May and their removal in October, as well as 4,384 tulip bulbs to be planted in the fall for blooming in the spring, according to an estimate provided to the Capitol Commission.

Carlson said the interest earned from the $1 million gift "should be completely above and beyond what is sufficient" for replanting the gardens each year as well as keeping up on routine maintenance.

Action by the Capitol Commission is needed to accept the gift, the former senators said in a request to the agency.

The restoration of the courtyards was based upon a 1932 design of the state Capitol by University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate Ernst Herminghaus that included flowers and fountains.

The organization of former state lawmakers previously raised $1.4 million to begin restoring the four gardens.

The first courtyard, located in the southwest quadrant of the Capitol, opened earlier this year.

The other three are expected to be completed by 2026, when a heating and air-conditioning project is wrapped up.

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On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS