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The Cost of a 200-Year Celebration

While we spend the weekend celebrating this country's 221st birthday, the Massachusetts State House is being readied for its 200th anniversary.

The golden dome--where you start counting mileage if you want to know how far it is from Boston to Westfield or Weymouth, Lowell or Lawrence, Shutesbury or Sunderland, or any other place in the Commonwealth--is getting new gold leafing and woodwork. Because, come January 11, 1998, we'll be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the day Governor Increase Sumner and the Legislature moved in in 1798.

Now, gold leaf doesn't come cheap. And this isn't like painting your house, or putting on a new roof, which can be expensive enough. No, we're talking about $1.5-million in improvements.

Within the month, the dome will be enclosed in a shroud while 24-karat gold leafing, imported straight from Italy, is applied. The project will consume 250 rolls of gold leaf--each roll being half an inch wide, six or seven feet long. That's 26 square feet per roll, at a total cost of $300,000 (labor and leaf).

But, before the gold leaf can go on, the copper underneath has to be patched. That'll cost about $80,000. And to get up there, for copper and gold work, a specially engineered scaffolding will have to be installed. It has to take a lot of wind, and remain stable, so it will cost about a quarter of a million dollars to erect.

Once the workers are up there, they'll take a good look at the pine cone on top of the dome. It may have to be restored, too.

Bet you didn't know it was a pine cone, but it is, and it, too, will be gilded along with the roof of the cupola. A woodworker will also reproduce and replace the railing on the cupola, the four wooden urns, and the woodwork, at a cost of another quarter of a million dollars. All be historically accurate, no changes, just replacements.

Another $300,000 will be spend to paint the wooden portions of the dome.

All work is expected to be finished on the Bullfinch Building in December.

Underneath the dome, by the way, restoration is underway on the large, circular stained glass ceiling in the Hall of Flags. It depicts the seals of the 13 original colonies, with Massachusetts' seal at the center. The dozen smaller seals are being worked on now at a glass studio in Needham, and will be replaced after the scaffolding in the Hall of Flags goes up next week.

The ceiling, shrouded since before I took office three years ago, won't be completed until October. The restoration company still has to remove the large central Massachusetts seal. And, they're also working to restore stained glass panels from the State House library ceiling.

Not quite so dramatic, but important in order to comply with the American Disabilities Act, are other improvements. New ramps, wheelchair areas in the House and Senate visitor galleries, wheelchair lifts for some of the offices and the bookstore, accessible restrooms, automatic door openers, and listening systems for the hearing impaired, are all being installed, along with large-letter and braille signs at entries and elevators.

If you're wandering the halls of the State House, stop in Room 540 to say hello. It's not fancy--no marble, no gold leaf, no stained glass. But I do have a window, walls and a door.


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