Senate chambers in need of renovations

BOSTON (State House News Service) – Renovations to the Senate chamber, originally delayed by the recession, could still be years away, Senate President Therese Murray said Monday.

After a meeting with Gov. Deval Patrick and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Murray told reporters that the Senate hasn’t received final design plans for the overhaul, which is needed because of falling panels from the rotunda and other areas within the chamber that have fallen into disrepair.

“It would be up to the next president of the Senate to work with the architectural firm and then of course it has to go out to bid,” said Murray, a Plymouth Democrat who isn’t running for reelection this year.

The News Service reported earlier on Monday that Senate leaders are seeking a $20 million overhaul of the chamber, with plans for the former “document room” on the fourth floor to become a substitute chamber as the Senate chamber undergoes the refurbishment.

“Obviously I’m very concerned about the condition of the chamber and have been for a long time,” Murray said. “We’ve been trying to get to this point. But we were almost there and we hit the recession so we had to back off. But it’s a 1798 building. It’s very old.”

Murray said she also wanted to make the chamber more handicap-accessible.

Murray said the balcony above the Senate rostrum, which used to be the press gallery, cannot be accessed anymore because it’s “fallen through” and the columns are “actually leaning forward so they’re separating from the walls.”

“It’s structurally not in good shape so it really needs an extensive overhaul,” Murray added.

Asked how the public will access Senate during sessions in the former “document room,” Murray said sessions will be televised.

“So you’ll be able to see what’s going on in there,” she said. “And there’ll be screens outside.”

Murray said she didn’t know how much room there will be available for members of the public looking to attend. “It’s not as big as the chamber, obviously,” she said. “But, you know, what are you going to do?”

The former document room is likely to be completed by late September or early October, and will likely cost $2 million.

Murray said the former document room “won’t be ideal obviously but it’ll be a space that the Senate can meet in when the time comes for construction.”

Patrick, before entering the speaker’s office for the leadership meeting, said the State House sees “thousands and thousands” of visitors regularly and the Senate chamber’s overhaul “reflects the seriousness with which we ought to take state government if we maintain our state government assets.”

The governor’s office is currently undergoing a $9 million renovation.

“I know that it’s never popular to invest in public infrastructure certainly if it’s the State House but this is the oldest continuously operating legislative building in America,” Patrick said. “It’s a museum.”

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