Historic work completed on Senate chamber

Sunday, December 16, 2001

Associated Press/Kelley McCall

A worker re-installed flags Tuesday in the newly remodeled Senate Chamber in Jefferson City, Mo. The $1.8 million restoration took more than six months to complete. Funding for the project was approved in 1999, before the state budget crunch.By Paul Sloca ~ The Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The first top to bottom facelift for the Missouri Senate in 80 years is basically complete and lawmakers say they are looking forward to some fresh surroundings.

After more than six months of painting, sawing, hammering and cleaning, workers on Monday are expected to return the chamber back to the control of the Senate following $1.8 million in renovations.

Lawmakers note that funding for the project was approved in 1999, before the current budget crunch. Work began soon after last session ended in May. The renovation is part of a long-term project for improvements to the Capitol complex.

Detailed ceiling work highlights designs as they appeared prior to World War I, new lighting provides a brighter working area and a new floor configuration gives senators a better view of the presiding officer.

There also is a new sound system, new green-patterned carpeting and new chairs for the 265-seat Senate gallery where spectators can watch lawmakers at work.

The Senate has not seen such a complete renovation since the Capitol opened in 1917.

Ron Kirchoff, Senate administrator who has spent the better part of the last 30 years working in the chamber, said he was pleased with how the work turned out. He also was relieved that the project was completed on time.

'Where democracy happens'

Tom Sater, who oversaw the project, called the chamber an "articulation of the architecture" that befits one of the cornerstones of democracy.

"It has the kind of elegance and nobility that this legislative chamber is supposed to have, because this is where democracy happens," Sater said. "There should be something expressed here about idealism and patriotism."

There also is a sense of pride for those who will spend long hours debating legislation in the new chamber.

Sen. Ronnie DePasco, D-Kansas City, oversaw renovation of the House in 1987 when he served there and remembers the impact it had.

"When we did the House, it was well worth the money because after it was all done, everyone said how beautiful it was. It was something the people of Missouri could be proud of," DePasco said. "I think the Senate chamber is beautiful. Something we can be proud of."Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, a student of history, said the new chamber reflects a long tradition in Missouri.

"The Capitol building is one of the great capital assets of the state of Missouri and all our people, it is a living, working museum," said Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau. "It has sort of been covered up and slighted over the last eight decades."

Asked whether the new surroundings will have an affect on relationships between majority Republicans and Democrats, some senators were optimistic.

"It will for a while. Maybe a few weeks," DePasco said.

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