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State Senate chamber, last renovated in 1898, will soon get a face lift

Plans for the new Senate chamber feature new lighting and ventilation systems, accessible seating, new audio technology, and more. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Lawmakers have met for 219 years in a room that now displays patches of plaster and cracked wood. But the state Senate chamber will soon get a face lift, and a time-consuming one at that.

Workers will peel back as many as 25 layers on 1,500 blocks of wood — and with them, centuries of wear in one of the oldest buildings on Beacon Hill.

Last week, Senate leaders and an architect unveiled renderings of the soon-to-be remodeled chamber, a project scheduled for completion in January 2019. The design features new lighting and ventilation systems, accessible seating throughout the chamber and its galleries, a raised podium accessible by a new lift, and new audio technology, among other things.


The chamber will be newly painted, accommodating to people with disabilities, and equipped with what Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg called “amenities of modern times.”

Chris Coios of CBT Architects presented a rendering of the finished Senate chamber after the planned renovation and restoration. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

But staying true to the chamber’s storied past was also important to legislators and the project managers, Senate minority leader Bruce Tarr and architect Chris Coios said.

“We are very lucky as current occupants of the chamber to have that legacy, and we take it very seriously,” said Tarr, who noted the cornerstone of the State House was laid by Paul Revere and Samuel Adams in 1795.

“We understand that as much as we want to make the chamber as technologically functional as it can be . . . we also have an obligation to maintain its character,” he said.

But tracing the room’s physical history has proved difficult for the architects. Coios’s team scoured the Boston Public Library and State House records for old etchings, without much success. They ultimately identified three major renovations since the chamber opened in 1798 as the meeting hall that State House architect Charles Bulfinch designed.

Many cracks can be seen in the plaster and wood of the Senate chamber. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

When the revamped chamber opens — hopefully in time for the next Senate — the project will have been a decade in the making. Planning began in 2009, and the state hired CBT, a Boston architecture firm, to assess the space and compile a report by 2011. The Legislature authorized $20 million for the project in 2014.


The Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, which is managing the renovation, moved forward with the project the following year and awarded a $14.1 million construction contract to a Holliston company, Colantonio Inc.

Claire Parker can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.