SPRINGFIELD — Bridget Riedel of Rochester was on the first public tour Saturday morning of the newly renovated Illinois Governor's Mansion in downtown Springfield.
The mansion at 410 E. Jackson Street was closed to public tours in January of 2017 so that $15 million in renovations and improvements could be completed at the historic site.
Riedel said she toured the mansion before the renovation project, and remembered seeing walls that had peeling paint. She said the improvements made during the renovation are apparent.
"So far it's been really breathtaking," Riedel said halfway through the tour. "They've really done a lot of work. We were here a few years ago and it was pretty dilapidated and sad. I'm glad to see that they have really put a lot of effort and time into it."
Renovation work on the mansion began in April of 2017 and was completely funded through private donations. Governor Bruce Rauner and Illinois first lady Diana Rauner provided at least $1 million toward the project, with Diana Rauner spearheading the effort.
Workers encountered a leaky roof that was causing extensive damage to the foundation, and a elevator shaft that had never been fireproofed. The renovation also included making the building ADA accessible.
Just prior to the tours, the Rauners spoke during a ceremony outside the mansion.
"This mansion reflects all of our state," Gov. Rauner said. "This mansion now is a proud jewel, it is a shining beacon on a hill that we can all be proud of and celebrate for many decades to come."
Diana Rauner called the mansion a living monument to history, and talked about the group effort it took to revitalize the building.
"I well remember the many conversations we had with so many experts about how to realize the potential of this building, most importantly so that every visitor who came to see it would understand the pride, the history and the tremendous future of our great state of Illinois," Diana Rauner said. "We have exceeded, I think, even our wildest expectations in developing a program here that actually tells a tremendous story for all of us about where we come from and where we can go."
Saturday's ceremony did have an unscripted surprise.
Less than a minute into his comments, Gov. Rauner was interrupted by a group of eight to ten chanting protestors wearing T-shirts that said, "Rauner wrecked child care" and "Rebuild child care now."
The group was escorted away as they chanted, "Money for kids and education instead of mansion renovations."
After the group was far enough away for the governor to be heard, the program resumed.
"In a free democracy, we celebrate and protect the freedom of speech, the freedom to protest," the governor said. "There is a time and place for protest, and we support protest at the right time and place."
Back on the tour, Riedel wasn't the only visitor who was impressed with the renovated mansion.
Beth Sarros of Mount Zion said the interior was outstanding.
"I'm really grateful that both the governor and the first lady went to all this trouble to renovate and make it available to the rest of us in the state," Sarros said. "There's so much history here. It's fascinating."
Saturday was Sorros' first visit to the mansion.
"In the past, I looked into coming over here and doing the tour, but I'd heard how run-down it was, and I thought, I don't know," Sarros said. "I'm about an hour away. I went to the Lincoln tomb and the museum, but I didn't make the effort to visit the governor's mansion. Then when I heard that all of this effort was made, it was worth my effort to come out."
Nina Rossini, another person on the tour, was also impressed. She previously worked as a chef at the mansion, starting with Gov. Jim Edgar and retiring under Gov. Pat Quinn.
"It just looks beautiful," Rossini said. "The porches are gorgeous; the whole flow of the mansion is great. It was always a wonderful place to work before, but to see it come back to life is wonderful."