Speaker Robert A. DeLeo defended a planned $20 million restoration of the House chamber on Tuesday, even as he acknowledged the price tag is just an estimate and not based on a professional analysis of the chamber’s structural needs.
“We’ve got a lot of repairs that need to be done, anywhere from the roof to the floor,” DeLeo said a day after a few House members gathered in an informal session quietly approved the project without debate.
DeLeo said the House began some repairs about a year ago, “but because of the water damage there are still some other problems that have to be addressed — maybe some wiring; people focus on flooring issues.”
The Senate hired an architecture firm, CBT of Boston, to inspect its chamber’s deficiencies before proposing its own $20 million makeover last month. The inspection documented cracked cornices, leaning columns, and pieces falling from the roof, according to Senate President Therese Murray.
DeLeo said the House did not conduct an architectural analysis before coming up with the same price — $20 million — for the repairs to its chamber.
“We had a group of folks from the House who made an estimate; that doesn’t mean we have to spend the $20 million,” he said. “I don’t know that we’ve come up with a finite amount of money that it will actually cost.”
At least one House member, Republican Geoff Diehl of Whitman, expressed outrage at the way the project was rushed through.
“The state doesn’t even have a scope of the project, specs, or bids, yet they allocate $20 million more of your money, despite the ‘crisis’ with roads and bridges,” Diehl wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday.
But Representative Bradley H. Jones Jr., the House Republican leader, said he believes it is important to restore the ornate chamber, which was built in 1895 and is paneled in Honduran mahogany.
He said the chamber has faded carpeting and water-damaged murals, and needs a more modern voting system.
“You can’t help but walk in and notice it,” Jones said. “I’ve had visitors, constituents, whatever, say, ‘What’s going on up there?’ Whether that requires $20 million, whether it requires more or less, I don’t know. I’m not an expert in that area. But I do know some amount of money needs to be spent making some, I would say, protective improvements.”
Financing for both the House and Senate projects is included in one large annual bond bill that authorizes the state to borrow money for public construction projects across Massachusetts.
The House and Senate have both given initial approval to the legislation.
Governor Deval Patrick — who would need to sign the bill to make it law — has said he believes it is important to renovate the State House, both as a historic landmark visited by thousands of tourists a year and as the seat of government.
Patrick effectively inaugurated the renovation boom at the State House last year when he announced he was spending $9 million to upgrade his office.
His suite is undergoing extensive work to repair cracked walls, drafty windows, and aging heating, cooling, and plumbing systems.
Patrick is also adding state-of-the-art video and telecommunications equipment to allow the office to be used as a command center during emergencies.
The work is scheduled for completion next month, and Patrick leaves office in January.
Murray said that she did not know the timeline for the Senate chamber project, but she expects it to begin next year, after she steps down and Senator Stanley C. Rosenberg takes over as Senate president.
DeLeo said he was not sure of the timeline for the House overhaul.