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Lawmakers: Statehouse needs up to $40M in upgrades

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BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Lawmakers are planning to spend as much as $40 million to upgrade the House and Senate chambers at the gold-domed Statehouse, which is more than two centuries old.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he's seeking up to $20 million to overhaul the 160-seat House chamber. DeLeo comments followed the Senate's decision to seek $20 million to upgrade its chamber.

Senate leaders said they asked an architectural firm to review problems in the 40-seat chamber before arriving at the $20 million figure.

They said the 2009 study by CBT Architects found serious structural issues, including falling pieces of ceiling, cracking in all major cornices, columns leaning in and away from the original structure and deteriorating decorative walls.

The repairs will constitute a complete historical renovation, Senate leaders said. The $20 million price tag was announced in June.

Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday said lawmakers have a responsibility to maintain the historic building, which is visited by thousands of tourists each year.

"I know that it's never popular to invest in public infrastructure, certainly if it's the Statehouse, but this is the oldest continuously operating legislative building in America," he said. "It's a museum."

Patrick's own office is undergoing a $9 million overhaul.

DeLeo said he wasn't sure if the House had also sought a formal review of problems in its chamber.

"We had a group of folks from the House ... who made an estimate. That doesn't mean we have to spend the $20 million," he said. "I don't know if we've come up with a finite amount of money that it will cost."

DeLeo said repairs began a year or so ago, but because of the water damage, there are still some other problems that have to be addressed. He said those could include issues with the wiring and flooring in the chamber.

DeLeo said the biggest challenge is where to find a space big enough to hold formal sessions when work is underway in the House chamber.

The Senate plans to hold its formal sessions in the Statehouse's former document room.

The proposed spending is included in a capital bond bill, which allows the state to borrow money to pay for larger infrastructure projects.

The Statehouse is regularly trying to fend off the ravages of time and the infiltration of rain.

In 2000, the building was the subject of a $42 million renovation project, needed in part to stem water damage.

That work included repairs to the brick facade, replacement of all windows and resetting of massive granite blocks. It was one of the most expensive renovations in the building's history and the most complex since the addition of the east and west wings, completed in 1916.

The cost of those renovations dwarfed the building's original cost of $133,333.

The Statehouse's cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1795, by Gov. Sam Adams and Paul Revere. The building has been the active seat of Massachusetts government since 1798.

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