- Associated Press - Saturday, March 7, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - On any given weekend in the state’s capital city, House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff says it’s not unusual to see out-of-staters walking around the Statehouse lawn, looking up at the golden dome and snapping photographs.

But because the Statehouse is closed on the weekend, all these visitors can do is admire the building from the outside. Shurtleff, of Penacook, has joined with Sen. Dan Feltes of Concord and the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce to push to keep the building open to the public on weekends.

“It would be nice for the citizens of New Hampshire, who work Monday through Friday, to be able to come to the Statehouse on a Saturday to see where state laws are made and bring their families as a reminder that the Statehouse belongs to them,” Shurtleff said. “It’s the people’s house.”

New Hampshire’s Statehouse is open to anyone during the week; visitors can grab a brochure detailing a self-guided tour in the visitor’s center or, if they have a large group, request a guided tour. More than a decade ago, an effort to keep the Statehouse open during summer weekends, staffed by volunteers, briefly succeeded. But weekend hours cost money and with a tight state budget, keeping it open on the weekends hasn’t been a priority.

“This is about bringing people to New Hampshire,” Feltes said. “We have a beautiful Statehouse, we need to bring people in and show it off.”

The Statehouse, built in 1819, is the country’s oldest to have the Legislature continuously met in its original chambers. Throughout the Greek Revival building, 200 paintings line the walls, ranging from governors’ portraits to astronaut and New Hampshire native Alan Shepard. Just inside the front entrance of the building, the Hall of Flags displays more than 80 Civil War battle flags, and up on the second floor is the Secretary of State’s office, where all candidates seeking the presidency must register to run in the New Hampshire primary.

Statehouses across the country vary in their hours. Arizona, Wisconsin and California open their statehouses on the weekend, while states such as Maine, New York and Rhode Island keep them closed.

Many of the details - including the cost - still need to be worked out.

Gov. Maggie Hassan has included $77,000 in her budget for a security officer at the Statehouse on the weekends. Her spokesman, William Hinkle, said the money was included for safety reasons and that any decisions about keeping the Statehouse open to the public is a decision for the Legislature.

Feltes said he’d like to see the Legislature include an additional $33,000 in the budget for weekend operations. Shurtleff said the state should consider seeking private donations to fund the effort and volunteers to offer tours on weekends. The extra hours could also be limited to the traditional summer travel season of Memorial to Labor Day, Shurtleff suggested.

Tim Sink, president of Concord’s chamber, said he prefers to have the effort funded with public dollars, but that the chamber may be able to help through private donations from groups who feel opening the Statehouse on weekends is an important initiative for the state.

“I think you have to look at the Statehouse as a cultural destination and attraction on a large scale,” Sink said. “If we can leverage that to bring people into the city and into the state, these folks are going to be spending money, adding to the rooms and meals tax. It’s going to benefit the state overall; it’s not just about filling restaurants in Concord.”

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