An Exclusive Look at the Newly Renovated Illinois Governor's Mansion - NBC Chicago
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An Exclusive Look at the Newly Renovated Illinois Governor's Mansion

The privately-funded project, spearheaded by first lady Diana Rauner, included a new roof, fixing water damage and much more



    An Exclusive Look at the New Illinois Governor's Mansion

    After more than two years, the $15 million renovation of the Illinois Governor’s Mansion is complete. But only we show you what you can’t see on the public tour. Zoraida Sambolin reports.

    (Published Friday, July 13, 2018)

    What to Know

    • After "years of neglect," the Illinois Governor's Mansion got a $15 million renovation that took more than two years to complete

    • The mansion was built in 1855 and the private residence was built in the early 1970s - both of which underwent much-needed repairs

    • The public area of the building includes an education center and historic exhibits about the state

    Saturday marks the official public reopening of the Illinois Governor's Mansion, which has undergone a massive, multimillion-dollar renovation over the past two years - a project close to first lady Diana Rauner's heart.

    She spearheaded the effort to repair and renovate the public space of the mansion as well as the private residence, both of which fell into disrepair over "years of neglect," according to the Illinois Executive Mansion Association.

    Built in 1855, the mansion in Springfield is one of the three oldest continuously occupied governor's residences in the U.S. Gov. Bruce Rauner took office in 2015 with a goal of privately funding much-needed updates, including a new roof, fixing water damage, repairing the elevator and updating the HVAC system.

    "There used to be exercise equipment upstairs, and Bruce would go upstairs and exercise and then he started to develop a cough and I said, 'You’re getting black lung,'" Diana Rauner said in an exclusive tour of the private residence, revealing that the home was brimming with mold before its major facelift.  See Inside the Illinois Governor's Mansion After RenovationsSee Inside the Illinois Governor's Mansion After Renovations

    The private residence also lacked one important element: a kitchen.

    "There was a little bar sink that was about, you know - you couldn't even put a cereal bowl in it, it was so small, and a microwave and a small refrigerator," Diana Rauner said. "And that was it in the private residence."

    "This used to be another bedroom," she added, gesturing to the brand new kitchen, complete with both an oven and a stovetop. "This private space is big and it was empty, so we were able to carve out space for a kitchen and family room."

    All appliances were donated and the full cost of the renovation - $15 million in total - was raised privately, including a million dollars from the Rauners themselves and a sizable donation from the governor's Democratic opponent J.B. Pritzker. 

    "This is our living room, we are still moving in," the first lady said of the home's now bright and airy room to relax and unwind, still a work in progress.

    "This is the furniture we bought in 2015, but we haven’t sort of moved back in," she elaborated. The Rauners, who personally own nine homes across the country, relocated from the Governor's Mansion to the Illinois State Fairgrounds during construction.

    "This is, ick, my husband's gross briefcase, we'll put that away," the first lady said, grimacing as she swept a tattered leather bag from the coffee table.

    "You know I don’t dress him, right? This is one of those things, every time I see him, I just put my head down," she continued, riffing about her husband's reputation for dressing more casually than one might expect of a billionaire.

    "I don't even want to think about how he dresses," she laughed.  A Look at the Governor's Mansion Before Its RenovationA Look at the Governor's Mansion Before Its Renovation

    Although Diana Rauner said renovating the private residence was important to her for the comfort of future first families serving Illinois, it was the education center and its gift to the state that mattered most to her in the project.

    "We made a promise to the people of Illinois," she said. "When Bruce was running in 2014, he promised that he would fix up the mansion with private donations. I focused on making sure that we carved out space in the building for an education center. That was very important to me."

    And on the wall of the education center, which is the first thing children see when they enter the building, are the words of former Gov. Adlai Stevenson, chosen by the first lady.

    "As citizens of this democracy, you are the rulers and the ruled, the lawgivers and the law abiding, the beginning and the end. Democracy is a high privilege, but it is also a heavy responsibility," it reads.

    "That means a lot to me as a volunteer public servant and as someone who has come to public office late in life," Diana Rauner said. "Bruce and I are both people who see ourselves as citizen servants."

    The official reopening of the Illinois Governor's Mansion was scheduled for Saturday, with a ceremony at 10:30 a.m. as well as public tours led by the curator.

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