Taking Time to Look Out the Window

There’s always something new going on outside my State House window.

Last week, the shroud was removed. So, I can see out the window. And I’m looking straight at a crane. Yesterday there was a backhoe digging up the street. Which is better than what will appear tomorrow.

My office is right over the archway, the street that separates the front of the State House from the back of the State House. And, as in any project of this size, there are always surprises. Like discovery of a 5,000 gallon tank of fuel oil that has turned to the consistency of molasses.

The tank is obsolete, unused, and has to be emptied. So equipment is moving in outside and under my office to, first, heat the oil in the tank to a temperature where it can be pumped out. A tanker will then roll in to actually pump it out. I’m told that I’ll enjoy fumes and noise. For three to six days.

They’ll also be taking down the wall that runs along Hancock Street, which meets Mount Vernon outside my office. It’s leaning at a precarious angle. So Hancock Street will be closed as well.

On the other side of the arch, down under the road where they used to store coal, they’ve discovered that there isn’t any support for the road. Just a brick arch. So that has to be reinforced before traffic returns to the part of Mount Vernon Street that runs under the State House.

Just finding your way into the State House is tricky. Thanks to security and construction, only a few doors are open, and all visitors have to go through a metal detector and have everything they’re carrying screened by troopers.

For example, the north side entrance to the East Wing, is closed so the contractor can work on floors and walls.

Builders are working on all sides of the building–replacing stairs, dismantling scaffolding and putting up scaffolding, removing old and installing new windows.

All of the lawns and gardens have disappeared under piles of lumber and marble and a marvelous assortment of heavy equipment. The Japanese government, by the way, is making a gift and replacing the cherry trees that were destroyed.

It’s all part of the $42-million project to rehabilitate the State House. (The original price tag was $33-million, but even home remodeling projects seem to finish at a price higher than estimated.) After 200 years, the building needs some tender loving care.

Original construction cost of the building, when Governor Sam Adams and Paul Revere laid the cornerstone in 1798 was just $133,333.33. My office is just outside the Hall of Flags, on the second floor, part of the original State House building. And it, like much of the inside of the capitol was refurbished just a few years ago, in time for our building’s bicentennial celebration.

The original building was just 173 feet long and 61 feet deep, some 155 feet from ground to gold dome. At one time its red bricks were painted white. The dome, originally plain, was first coppered, then covered with gold leaf.

There are three additional wings added in the 1890s and 1917, and new basement vaults, the glass domed "Great Hall" completed just a dozen ago along with four hearing rooms, even an underground parking garage.

But, it is the still the oldest building on Beacon Hill, covering almost seven acres or about two city blocks.

The State House deserves restoration. After 204 years of wear and tear, it is tired.

The project is going well. You can already see the marble on the west wing in its new white splendor. Compared with its formerly gray appearance, the change is truly remarkable.

When it’s all done, the State House will truly be a House that its people–the citizens of the Commonwealth–can be proud of.

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