When the General Assembly opens its 2020 session today, members will be greeted by the smell of new carpeting, fresh paint, new chairs and an improved sound system. There also won’t be a leak directly about the Senate president’s rostrum, or for that matter in the House chambers.
Those have been fixed and a long with a remake of both venues that includes fresh stenciling and gilding of things gold.
Both chambers were undergoing final checks Monday as contractors tested today’s technology in settings true to their history.
The House of Representatives and the Senate will convene in their respective chambers at 4 p.m. to begin the work of the new legislative year.
Speaker of the House Nicholas A. Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston) and President of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) will gavel their chambers to order.
The opening day House session will be broadcast live by Capitol Television, which can be seen on Cox on Channels 15 and 61, in high definition on Cox Channel 1013, on Full Channel on Channel 15 and on Channel 34 by Verizon subscribers. The Senate session will air immediately afterward. Both sessions will also be live streamed at www.rilegislature.gov/CapTV.
Both legislative bodies will meet in chambers that have been renovated to bring them up to safety codes, improve sound and technology and restore paint colors and other details to the way they were originally designed when the building was constructed at the dawn of the 20th century.
“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 brings it back to its original splendor, while incorporating the safety, technology and accessibility features that modern public buildings demand,” House Speaker Mattiello said of the $2.5 million restoration program that went into gear immediately following adjournment in June.
Senate President Ruggerio said in a statement, “This project represents long-overdue updates and preservation that will make the chambers more functional while also improving their beauty and historical accuracy. We are very grateful for the cooperation and hard work of the 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 was 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 project included replacing the chambers worn carpets and drapes, which were last replaced in 2002 and 1988, respectively. Legislator’s desks were restored for the first time in decades, and their chairs were replaced with functional, historically appropriate new models. The public galleries, leaking and broken skylights and rostrums were repaired, and the chambers were painted with colors selected by the State House Restoration Society to be as close as possible to the original shades found under layers of paint. In the House, the new paint helps make the 10 original mural-like tapestries depicting an elaborate floral scene look more vivid. In the Senate, gold lettering has been added to the state seals of the 13 original U.S. states, making them more visible near the ceiling at the front of the chamber.
The more extensive improvements made in the off-session are less visible, although some will be audible. Both chambers sound systems have been improved with new speakers and microphones. A new hearing loop system, which transmits sound electronically to t-coil hearing aids and all cochlear implants, has been installed in both chambers, making Rhode Island the first state capitol in the country to have both of its legislative chambers and its public galleries equipped with permanent large area hearing loops, according to David Abell, a volunteer hearing loop advocate with the Rhode Island State Office of the Hearing Loss Association of America, who supported the project. Hearing loops were installed in other rooms of the State House in 2016, but could not be installed in the chambers without removing the carpeting, which was replaced as part of this project.
The renovation also included considerable improvements to technology, including added layers of safety for the voting systems and a full update of both chambers antiquated electrical systems, which have had only piecemeal repairs and updates since the building opened nearly 120 years ago. The updates will at last bring the wiring up to code and improve the safety of the public, the members and the building.
JCLS and the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, which is responsible for the building, managed the project together. 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.