State Senate moving out in January

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BOSTON — After the new legislative term begins in January, the state Senate plans to abandon its historic chamber and begin meeting in two temporary workspaces elsewhere in the State House.

Beginning in January, the Senate plans to hold its sessions in both Gardner Auditorium and a recently renovated fourth-floor meeting room to allow for restoration work in the Senate chamber, Senate President Stan Rosenberg's office confirmed when asked by the News Service.

Rosenberg spokesman Pete Wilson said Monday the details are still being worked out as to when each room would be used and the timeline of the renovation project.

Directly below the State House's golden dome, the Senate chamber sits in the part of the building designed by Charles Bulfinch and completed in 1798. Most of the chamber — which originally held the House of Representatives until that branch moved to its larger quarters down the hall — has been changed from the original design, but its sunburst ceiling remains the same.

In 2014, lawmakers authorized $20 million to renovate the Massachusetts Senate chamber and facilities, after Senate officials highlighted structural issues including falling ceiling pieces, cracking in all major cornices, columns leaning in and away from the original structure and the deterioration of lower decorative walls.

At the time, senators planned to hold their sessions in Room 428 -- the State House's former "document room" -- during the refurbishment. Senate President Therese Murray said then that the smaller room "won't be ideal" but provided "a space that the Senate can meet in when the time comes for construction."

The plan now is to use Room 428 along with the larger Gardner Auditorium, which is located in the subbasement of the building's East Wing.

The document room underwent major renovations in 2014 and is now used for meetings and hearings. Until its closure in 2009, the room housed a staff that distributed copies of bills, calendars, roll call votes, journals and other documents to lawmakers, aides, lobbyists and the public.

Upgrades are also planned to the 600-seat Gardner Auditorium, the State House's largest meeting space.

The auditorium renovations, estimated to take 136 calendar days and cost $1,366,923, include painting, new seating, "new carpet and resilient flooring," new audio and conference systems, infrastructure for a new camera system and "the renovation of an existing bathroom into two bathrooms, one accessible and one staff," according to a request for bids posted earlier this year.

Gov. Charlie Baker's capital plan for the fiscal years from 2017 to 2021 included $5 million for the "Historic Restoration of the Senate Chamber and Reading Room and the renovation/replacement/repair of the systems," along with $1.7 million for renovations to the House chamber and executive office and a "comprehensive renovation" of Gardner Auditorium.

Upgrades and renovations to a set of East Wing elevators, which serve Gardner Auditorium, are also planned to begin Monday. A notice on the Legislature's website advises that there will be limited elevator access to Senate offices 504 through 522 until December 31. A wheelchair accessible lift is slated to be installed this week to ensure access to those offices during construction, the notice said.


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