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West Virginia’s House of Delegates chamber has turned from a historic room of legislative decision making, to a renovation worksite, where the decisions being made are about paint swatches and desk stains.
The sound one often hears from a busy House chamber comes with a call for a vote followed by the familiar signal of a ding. But after the recent special session – came the renovation session. Now, it’s not a statement and ding, but the pound and ring of hammer and nail. Designed by legendary capitol architect Cass Gilbert and first opened for debate in 1932, the House chamber has not had a full renovation since 1995, until now.
House Clerk Steve Harrison said this $2.3 million facelift will freshen peeling chamber walls and give delegates something new to tread upon.
“We’re doing new carpet,” Harrison said. “It will still be predominantly red, but it will have a pattern in it which we think will wear better and show less dirt. We are painting, we are refinishing the desks, those are the main items. We are also getting new chairs for the delegates.”
Harrison said the renovation also highlights the long continued tweaking of a never quite acoustically right chamber sound system.
“We would get complaints from delegates,” Harrison said. “I think sometimes certain parts of the room would be a challenge, just certain areas that were easier to hear than others we have through the years. The sound has been a challenge through the years.”
The last House chamber renovation 28 years ago was a few years into the seven term delegate tenure of now Sen. Charlie Trump, R-Morgan. Trump said that renovation led to the eventual elimination of some House chamber relics and practices.
“The chamber featured brass spittoons on the aisles,” Trump said. “And, the members smoked. Most often they went to the back to that vestibule where you enter the House chamber from the rotunda main hall.”
Furniture finisher Brian Richards is hand sanding all 100 of the near 100 year old delegate desks. Richards said it’s challenging to match the stains and hide the blemishes.
“You can tell they’ve been beat up and scratched,” Richards said.
“Maybe with some legislators banging on them a bit?” reporter Randy Yohe asked.
Richards replied with a laugh, “Yeah, it looks like that on some of them.”
Trump said he was nostalgic thinking about the now 100 desks and delegates in the House chamber compared to just 34 in the senate.
“I loved my service in the House of Delegates, I absolutely did,” Trump said. “It was, and still is, sometimes like the wild west, but in a good way.”
Harrison rephrased that ‘wild west’ concept with a more temperate term.
“It’s very lively because of the number of members and the different personalities you have,” Harrison said. “In the House, you get such a variety of positions, opinions, personalities. They’re in a little closer quarters than they are in the Senate because the chambers are approximately the same size and we have 100 desks in ours, and they just have 34 so it is a little more crowded on our side.”
Harrison anticipates the House renovations will be completed by Dec. 1.