No more '70s paneling: Florida Senate readies for a refresh - Florida Politics

No more ’70s paneling: Florida Senate readies for a refresh

Say goodbye to all those yards of fake-wood laminate: The Florida Senate will be shedding the 1970s look of its chamber with a nearly $5 million renovation this year.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, in a Jan. 6 memo to fellow senators, said the remodeling will begin this summer. A copy of the memo was provided to FloridaPolitics.com on Monday.

“In my view, we are guests in this building and we have an important responsibility to adequately preserve and maintain areas of the Capitol complex designated for use by the Senate and often utilized by students and other civic groups when the Senate is not in Session,” the Orlando Republican said.

The last redo of the House chamber occurred in 1999 under then-Speaker John Thrasher, now Florida State University president. He spent nearly $7 million to renovate the chamber, the speaker’s office and the House Office Building.

But Gardiner and the rest of the Senate no doubt will tread carefully with their refurb, with the 2010 “Taj Mahal” courthouse controversy still sticking in many memories.

Now-retired Tampa Bay Times reporter Lucy Morgan broke the story of the 1st District Court of Appeal’s new courthouse in Tallahassee that cost $48 million and became the poster building for pre-Great Recession excess.

In one story, it was described as “a monument to profligate spending, with no taxpayer dollar spared, a courthouse outfitted with 20 miles of African mahogany, etched glass and, for each judge, a private kitchen and bathroom.”

After Morgan started reporting, the plans changed, such as removing the individual kitchens for a central one. Other stories noted an abundance of granite countertops and large, flat-screen television screens throughout.

As Gardiner’s memo makes clear, this isn’t that kind of upgrade.

“As many Senators and visitors have mentioned to me over the last few years, our Senate Chamber has received only minimal updates since its original construction in the 1970s,” he said.

“Over the last four decades, the carpet has been replaced, the Senators’ chairs along with the gallery seating were replaced, and Senators’ desks were modified to accommodate changes in technology,” Gardiner added. “Currently, our carpet is again in serious need of replacement and the HVAC units are outdated.”

In 2003, then-Senate President Jim King proposed remodeling the Senate chamber and the Senate Office Building, south of the Capitol tower. To control costs, the chamber upgrade was put on hold.

Now, three contracts are posted on the Senate website: Allstate Construction of Tallahassee will do the building, and Hick Nation Architects will do the design. Still another firm – Spitz Inc. of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania – will design and build a new ceiling dome modeled after one in the Old Capitol.

The cost estimate for a “scope of work” summary comes in at about $4.9 million, and includes $782,000 for the new dome and surrounding ceiling.

The final look of the new and improved chamber is still a work in progress, according to Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta.

Betta sent an artist’s conception of the new chamber with the following proviso: “Please bear in mind that this is a graphic rendering only and does not reflect final decisions on some key design elements.”

The mock-up shows the proposed new ceiling dome and other design elements similar to the exterior of the Old Capitol, including a pediment on top of columns over the president’s rostrum and the words, “In God We Trust.”

Senate President pro tem Garrett Richter, a Naples Republican, is leading a “Chamber Renovation Working Group” that includes GOP Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Tom Lee and Kelli Stargel with Democrats Oscar Braynon II and Bill Montford.

They will recommend “specific decisions regarding aesthetic and historical elements of the renovation,” Gardiner said.

Work begins after adjournment sine die of the 2016 Legislative Session, “and construction is scheduled to conclude prior to the 2016 Organization Session this fall,” he added.

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.
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