HELENA — Visitors to the Montana State Capitol are going to notice some changes underway in the coming months, as crews start renovations to the House chamber and legislative galleries.
Signs around the Capitol inform visitors that the chamber and gallery areas are closed for legislative area improvements.
“Please be patient with us,” said Jerry Howe, executive director of the Legislative Services Division. “These changes are necessary. We'll do them as quick as we can.”
Workers started moving legislators’ desks out of the House chamber this week. They will replace the carpet in the chamber and the anteroom, potentially make repairs to the subfloor and work on the computer cables and other cables run underneath.
“I don't even know how to figure out the last time that that subfloor was exposed,” Howe said. “When you want to upgrade a room to add computer access to it, this is as good a time as any.”
While the historic desks are out of the chamber, some of them that are in need of attention will get refinished.
“They’ll be taken out individually,” said Howe. “They're being handled by professional movers. They'll be taken to a climate-controlled warehouse where the refinisher will have access to them, and they will do piecemeal repairs on them and then bring them back to the warehouse for storage.”
Howe says one of their most important tasks is protecting one of the chamber’s most notable features: “Lewis and Clark Meeting Indians at Ross’ Hole,” a 12-by-25-foot painting by Charles M. Russell – the largest the famed Montana artist ever produced.
The Montana Historical Society is responsible for the all the art in the Capitol, including the Russell painting. MHS leaders say the plan is to cover the painting with Tyvek – a breathable material that will still protect it from dust – and to put up a temporary wall in front of it for additional protection.
Work is planned in the visitor galleries for the House chamber, Senate chamber and the Old Supreme Court Chamber – a room commonly used for committee hearings during the legislative session. In those areas, crews will be replacing the railings, ensuring the stairs meet with building codes and removing some chairs to create accessible areas for wheelchair users.
“They certainly don't meet today's code,” Howe said. “They are not in compliance with today's code, and this project will help bring them into compliance.”
Howe said the project is an example of many different parts of state government working together, from Legislative Services and the House and Senate staffs to MHS and the Montana Department of Administration. He expects the chamber will remain closed through June of 2024.