- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The state’s Board of Public Works yesterday approved a renovation plan that will close Maryland’s State House for about eight months.

The building is the oldest in the country in continuous legislative use and will be closed starting in April, almost as soon as the General Assembly’s 2008 session ends, until December.

The main purpose of the project is to upgrade the heating and cooling piping system. The current system was installed in the 1960s and has decayed. Some plumbing in the building dates back to about 1904.

Edward Papenfuse, the state archivist, said the building has lacked an overall plan for its preservation since about 1904, when the annex was built. The annex is where the Senate and House chambers are — down the hall from the old chambers.

“Much work has been done in a piecemeal way, in a partial way, but not in terms of looking at the building as a whole, trying to deal with it in terms of the visitor experience and also in terms of the care and improvement of the infrastructure,” he said.

The project was authorized yesterday by the State House Trust, which oversees the building and includes Gov. Martin O’Malley, House Speaker Michael E. Busch of Anne Arundel County and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. of Southern Maryland. All are Democrats.

A memorandum of understanding approved by the trust also calls for a new “architect of the State House,” who will oversee planning and implementation of projects within the building, including new exhibits.

The estimated cost of the total renovation is $8.4 million.

The project also includes plans to re-create the old House of Delegates Chamber, which will require tearing down a wall between the Calvert and Silver Rooms, where the old chamber was.

The old Senate Chamber, where George Washington resigned his commission as commander in chief of the Continental Army in 1783, is decorated to resemble the late Colonial period. Plans call for making the old House Chamber look as it did in the 19th century.

“Basically, what’s going to happen is it will be restored to the way it was about 1876, so we’ll have every period of importance in the State House represented,” Mr. Papenfuse said.

The old Senate Chamber also will be replastered and repainted.

During the renovation, Mr. O’Malley will work out of the William Donald Schaefer Tower in downtown Baltimore, which has a suite of offices for the governor.

“As a practical matter, I work out of there two or three days a week anyway, depending on the week and where the meetings are,” he said.

Mr. Busch and Mr. Miller are moving their offices to the House and Senate office buildings near the State House.

The restoration project began in 1997, including repairs to windows, the fire alarm and sprinkler system and refinishing.

The State House was built between 1772 and 1779. The building also served as the capital of the United States from 1783 to 1784. The Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, was signed in the building in 1784.

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