Legislation to install a plaque honoring the workers who built the state Capitol advanced Wednesday in a Senate committee, thanks to the effort of students from the Owatonna school district.
Six students testified before the Senate State Departments and Budget Division, which then laid the measure over for possible inclusion in a budget document. In mid-March, another group of students spoke to a House committee that then approved the legislation.
“The project started as a classroom homework assignment that these students viewed very seriously,” said Senator Vicki Jensen, DFL-Owatonna, author of the bill.
Students Parker Erickson, Rachel Kellar, Abang Okumu, Abby Schwartz, Alex Tekautz and Lucas Vieths described the need to recognize the workers who built the Capitol – including six who died on the job. They were among a group of about 100 students who collected more than 700 signatures supporting a memorial.
They launched their campaign after learning about the Capitol workers through the Who Built Our Capitol? video, website and curriculum, developed by the University of Minnesota Labor Education Service.
“In a day and age when young people look at the new and the shiny, they saw the beautiful in the old and the marvelous,” said Jennifer Hansen, their sixth grade teacher and co-developer of the Who Built Our Capitol? curriculum.
The legislation (HF2270/SF2203) calls for a statewide contest among sixth graders to design the memorial plaque and appropriates $10,000 for the cost. Co-authors Jensen and Rep. John Petersburg, R-Waseca, hope to see the plaque installed when the Capitol re-opens next year after extensive renovation. Tens of thousands of visitors, including many school groups, tour the Capitol every year.
After Wednesday’s hearing, the students met with descendants of the Capitol builders and workers involved in the current renovation.
Mark Wickstrom, a master stonecutter and member of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, thanked the students for their dedication to honoring the workers.
“You’re going to affect how other school kids think about the Capitol when they go there,” he said.
The Minnesota Legislature meets in shortened session in 2016 to consider key issues such as infrastructure investment and transportation funding.