State Politics

After $6M in renovations, new Florida Senate chamber unveiled

Visitors, Florida senators and their staff members look at the new Florida Senate chamber on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016. The $6 million renovation took eight months to complete.
Visitors, Florida senators and their staff members look at the new Florida Senate chamber on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016. The $6 million renovation took eight months to complete. TAMPA BAY TIMES

After eight months and nearly 50,000 hours of construction work, Florida legislative leaders got their first official look at a brand new Senate chamber on Monday.

The $6 million renovation was the first major overhaul to the room since the current Capitol was built in the late 1970s, and the result is a brighter and modernized — yet classically styled — chamber where the Florida Senate will continue to conduct its business.

“They did a phenomenal job, and it’s long overdue,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. “It brings a level of respect to the process to have the chamber looking so stately as it does now.”

Now the people of Florida can be very proud that the work being conducted on their behalf is being done in an area that commands respect.

State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton

Just about everything in the circular room has been replaced or refurbished, except for the voting boards and cameras that line the walls. Those are only a few years old and remain “state of the art” technology, former Senate President Andy Gardiner said.

Most noticeably, the president’s rostrum has been rebuilt in carved lyptus wood veneer with the state motto, “In God We Trust,” emblazoned in brass near the ceiling above a 128-inch display screen.

As well, the once-paneled dome ceiling — yellowed from age and a time when smoking was once allowed in the chamber — is now a smooth arc with a stained-glass pendant at its apex.

The pendant, surrounded in small cursive font by the names of Florida’s 67 counties, is one of several nods to architectural features found in the Historic Capitol. Other echoes of that design include the installation of Ionic columns and egg and dart molding throughout the room.

“It’s brighter, it’s airy, and I like the themes of the old Capitol,” incoming Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, said.

The remodel also brings the chamber into compliance with modern building codes and accommodations for people with disabilities.

“After four decades of use with minimal updates, our chamber was showing its age,” Gardiner said. “We hope the historic components of this remodel have created a timeless design that will limit the need for renovations.”

We hope the historic components of this remodel have created a timeless design that will limit the need for renovations.

Former Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando

Current and former senators — along with dozens of staff, family members and some state House members — gathered to see the new chamber’s unveiling Monday afternoon, the culmination of more than a decade of planning before construction began this past spring.

Almost immediately after the 2016 legislative session ended in early March, crews gutted the chamber and stripped it to its bones. Everything from the carpet and walls to the interior heating and air-conditioning system was replaced.

The room was gradually put back together over the summer, and construction finished just a few days ago in time for Tuesday’s organizational session of the recently elected 2016-18 Legislature.

Part of Monday’s debut included the new Senate seal — something senators settled on during the 2016 session after they voted to remove the Confederate battle flag that had for years been included in an array of five flags in the previous seal design. The new seal is simpler: just the United States and Florida flags.

Several senators described the previous chamber, constructed in 1978, as “antiquated.”

“It was fraying around the edges, and even the functionality of the desk was in question because you had phones that just weren’t even made anymore,” Galvano said.

In some ways — such as the columns and engraved rostrum — the new Senate chamber mirrors elements of the Florida House chamber, which was remodeled during John Thrasher’s tenure as speaker in 1999.

“There was not a balance, and I think now the people of Florida can be very proud that the work being conducted on their behalf is being done in an area that commands respect,” Galvano said.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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