Historic preservation project begins in House, Senate chambers
STATE HOUSE – Work began this week on a project to restore and update the House and Senate chambers in the State House.
The project is intended to restore the chambers as closely as possible to their original appearance at the beginning of the last century, while improving handicapped accessibility and technology, and complying with modern electrical, building and fire codes.
The $2.5 million project, which is to be finished by the beginning of the next legislative session on Jan. 7, 2020, is a collaborative effort between the Joint Committee on Legislative Services (JCLS), the Division of Capital Asset management and Maintenance (DCAMM), the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission (RIHPHC) and the State House Restoration Society (SHRS).
“The State House is one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Rhode Island, and it was created to be a lasting monument to the achievements of our state. We are very proud to be honoring that concept with this careful, thoughtful renovation, which will bring it back to its original splendor, while incorporating the safety, technology and accessibility features that modern public buildings demand,” said House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston), who serves as chairman of JCLS. “We are very much looking forward to our return next year to chambers that better serve the public and our members and more closely resemble the magnificence of their original designs.”
Said Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence), who serves as vice chairman of JCLS, “This project represents long-overdue updates and preservation that will make the chambers more functional while also vastly improving their beauty and historical accuracy. We are very grateful for the cooperation and hard work of our collaborating agencies, particularly the historical preservation groups. This is one of the most exciting and rewarding renovation projects we’ve embarked upon at the State House. When it was built, our State House was considered a masterpiece that served as the inspiration for many other states’ capitols. It’s our duty and also a pleasure to maintain its beauty and preserve its historical integrity so that every generation will be able to experience the same sense of awe and majesty that Rhode Islanders have enjoyed in our State House since 1904.”
The project includes replacing the chambers’ worn carpets and drapes, which were last replaced in 2002 and 1988, respectively. Legislators’ desks will be restored for the first time in decades, and their chairs will be replaced with functional, historically appropriate new models. The public galleries, skylights and rostrums will all be repaired, and the chambers will be painted with colors that are as close as possible to the original shades.
The State House Restoration Society worked with samples from the walls to determine the original colors. According to Sally Strachan, SHRS chairwoman, the walls in the House were a creamier shade than the gold they are today, and returning them to that color will make the handsome tapestries on the chamber’s north and south walls appear considerably more vivid. The 10 elaborate mural-like tapestries depicting a floral scene with open space beyond are original and are still well-preserved, she said, and her agency worked to ensure they will be adequately protected during the construction.
“Some of the original colors are a bit surprising, and very, very beautiful. As close as possible, returning the chambers to those original colors will make all the elements of the room look the way they were intended, and will preserve our State House’s rich history,” said Strachan, who added that the project’s planning has been a very successful collaboration between the entities involved.
“The Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission has been working with JCLS, DCAMM and their teams as well as the State House Historical Society, to identify original color schemes for the House and Senate Chambers. The project scope has included a Finishes Analysis study, research into original design documents, and early photographs to ensure the completed restoration will reflect the architects’ original design intent,” added Virginia Hesse, RIHPHC principal historical architect.
Less visibly, the chambers’ antiquated electrical systems — which have had only piecemeal repairs and updates since the building opened in 1904 — will at last be fully updated, and the hearing loop system, which allows sound to be transmitted electronically to digital hearing aids, will be installed. (A hearing loop was installed in other rooms of the State House in 2016, but could not be installed in the chambers without removing the carpeting.) Improvements to the sound systems will also be performed.
JCLS will fund approximately $1.5 million of the projects’ costs from its budget. The remaining cost of just under $1 million will be paid by the Division of Capital Asset management and Maintenance, which is responsible for the building. All elements of the project were publicly bid and the contracts were awarded to three companies, all in Rhode Island: Vision 3 Architects and E.F. O’Donnell & Sons Co., Inc., both of Providence; and Drapery House of North Providence.
“We are pleased to be partners in this effort to restore and modernize the House and Senate chambers,” said Michael DiBiase, Director of Administration. “In collaboration with the General Assembly and historic preservation officials, we constructed a plan that retains the special and historical nature of these spaces while addressing long-overdue restoration needs. We look forward to seeing the end result, which we hope will continue to give Rhode Islanders immense pride in their state capitol.”
Construction will be ongoing during an expected fall legislative session to address legislation pertaining to IGT’s state lottery contract, so legislative leaders are currently considering alternate sites for the House and the Senate to gather.
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903