The State House’s Senate Chamber is a close replica of what it was in 1898. A soaring ceiling features the state crest and four emblems symbolizing commerce, agriculture, war, and peace. Stately busts gaze out over the space.
Those historical flourishes shine even brighter following an 18-month renovation that concluded Jan. 2. The $22.6 million makeover, toured by reporters Monday, is wheelchair accessible and has USB ports at every seat.
“It has been a labor of love for everyone here,” said Senate President Karen Spilka. “It is almost an obligation to the residents of the Commonwealth to keep the State House in good shape.”
Architects studied old photos to re-create the room, but this is not the Senate of the 19th century. A quote by abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass was added in bronze letters on the south wall — “Truth, Justice, Liberty, and Humanity will ultimately prevail.”
There are six busts currently in the chamber, but the renovation is expected to add two more busts of historical figures. One is of Douglass, which will be provided by Boston’s Museum of African American History. It will not be a permanent fixture, but will be on exhibit from Wednesday until the Senate decides otherwise.
Spilka also hopes to commission a bust of a prominent female figure, perhaps Abigail Adams. Action will likely be taken within the year, according to Spilka’s spokeswoman, Sarah Blodgett.
A main goal of the project, which closed the Senate for a year and a half, was to make the chamber more inclusive. There used to be only one handicapped spot in the chamber, but now every seat is accessible. Passages are large enough for wheelchairs, and public galleries have been widened, as well. Desks were raised to fit wheelchairs beneath them.
Before the renovations, the chamber was always too hot or too cold, and cracking paint snaked along the walls, according to Christos Coios, the project architect from CBT Architects. More than 20 layers of paint were removed from the woodwork. Each block was removed and tagged, so builders could return it to its exact location. “Our goal was to keep as much of the original woodwork as possible,” Coios said. “Wherever a piece of woodwork could be repaired or salvaged, we did it.”
Acoustic buffers were added to absorb excess noise. Overhead lighting for the desks was discreetly placed. Large HVAC vents were built in the corners, replacing the smaller vents from above.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described plans to display a bust of Frederick Douglass in the state Senate chamber. It will not be on permanent display.
Ysabelle Kempe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.