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Senate Refreshing Its Chambers With An Eye On The Past

The Senate chambers mid-demolition
Nick Evans

Florida’s Senate chambers is a shell of its former self.  Crews are working on the first full renovation since the late 1970s.

“All of the paneling has been removed, and the carpet has been removed—which had only been replaced once since the chamber was constructed in the 70s,” Katie Betta says.  She’s a spokeswoman for Senate President Andy Gardiner.

“That carpet has all been removed, most of the insulation,” she continues, ticking off the demolition, “The rostrum—which is where the president stands as well as the secretary of the Senate and the reading clerk—the majority of that has been removed.”

Senate chambers mockup
Credit courtesy Katie Betta
Senate chambers mockup

  The floor is littered with insulation and paneling.  Burly men in bright orange shirts and hard hats are breaking down the rubble and shoving it into a big rolling dumpster.  Earlier this month the chamber was appointed with forty desks and overstuffed blue leather chairs—some senators peeled off their nameplates on their way out of town. 

Now all that’s left are the tall wooden panels dominating the wall behind the rostrum. 

“So, in Florida’s history we’ve actually had three Senate chambers,” Betta says.  “The 1845 chamber which currently is in the historic capitol, there was another chamber that was constructed in 1947 and that was torn down once the current Senate chamber in 1978 was completed.” 

“And so the senators chose to incorporate some of the elements of each chamber.”

Sen. Garrett Richter (R-Naples) chaired the committee in charge of handling renovation decisions.

“There was discussion about—don’t want something too brown, and don’t want something too red,” Richter says about debating which wood paneling to choose.  

“I know that there was talk about having the Senate seal in the carpet there in the center of the chamber in front of the rostrum,” he adds.

The Senate mock up features a cornflower blue carpet with the Senate seal right at the front of the room. 

Tallahassee Sen. Bill Montford served on the committee with Richter. 

“I’m most excited about the fact that the new chamber will be a reflection of the Senate chambers in the historic capitol,” Montford says.

Stained glass design
Credit courtesy Katie Betta
Stained glass design

The design incorporates historic molding, columns, and a pediment depicting the same scene as the state flag.  But above all of that will be a new dome. 

“There will be a stained glass pendant that will be at the flat portion of the dome,” Betta says, “and that will have the same look as the stained glass in the old capitol.”

All told the project will cost $6 million, and workers are expecting to complete the job in time for an organizational Senate meeting in mid-November.