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Backyard updates planned for Iowa's historic governor's mansion

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DES MOINES, Iowa — The backyard of Iowa's historic governor's mansion in Des Moines is set to get a major facelift, with a new reflecting pool and vintage style greenhouse.

Both projects will be privately funded and the goal is to complete them by next summer, when Des Moines will be the host city for a meeting of the National Governor's Association, said Jeff Boeyink, a former chief of staff to Gov. Terry Branstad who heads up a fundraising effort for the mansion, called Terrace Hill.

"We decided we should do something special at the house," said Boeyink, who added that when updating the pool was suggested: "it was one of those ideas when a light bulb went off."

The project will convert a 1920s swimming pool that was filled in with sand and topsoil over ten years ago into a decorative shallow reflecting pool. Boeyink said that restoring the pool for swimming use was rejected due to concerns about liability and maintenance costs. The design firm Confluence, a Midwestern company with a Des Moines office, won the bid to do the design.

Rebuilding a version of a greenhouse that was in the garden during a similar time period is also part of the plan, though Boeyink said that project will come after the pool rehabilitation. He said the combined cost for both projects would come in at under $1 million and that between $200,000 and $300,000 has already been committed.

"It's going to add a lot of beauty to the property," said Monty Lovell, the longtime caretaker of the grounds and gardens at Terrace Hill.

These improvements come after several years of work on the historic home. A new kitchen, updated restrooms and an energy-efficient heating and cooling system are among the recent updates. Boeyink said over $1.5 million has been raised and spent on those projects already.

Private money is used at Terrace Hill for many improvements. The state budget will provide about $500,000 in the current fiscal year for upkeep and staffing at the mansion, on a hill just west of downtown.

Terrace Hill was built in the late 1860s by Iowa's first millionaire, Benjamin Allen. He outfitted the Second Empire style mansion with ornate decor and modern conveniences, such as an elevator and gas lights. When Allen fell on hard financial times, he sold the mansion to wealthy businessman Fredrick Hubbell, whose family kept the home until it was donated to the state in 1971.

Four governors have lived in Terrace Hill. Gov. Terry Branstad, who served as governor from 1983 to 1999 and then returned to office in 2011, is on his second stint in the home. The family's private residence is on the third floor, while the first two floors are open to the public for tours.

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