New and Improved Senate Chamber Ready for Prime Time

by Katelyn Guderian

As the 2022 interim comes to a close, so too does the last chapter of renovations to the Senate Chamber here at the Capitol.

When the 2022 legislative session ended back in May, there wasn’t much time for resting before extensive changes to the Senate Chamber began. Since the official kick-off meeting to plan the renovations on June 17, the newly renovated Senate Chamber has undergone significant structural and cosmetic changes.

Almost six months to the day since this leg of the project began, construction crews are wrapping up the final touches in the new and improved Senate Chamber just in time for the beginning of the 2023 session next month.

Old Becomes New

In an effort to modernize and upgrade the Chamber while preserving the original character and historical uniqueness, renovation crews relied on a mixture of both old and new ideas to make the updated Senate Chamber a reality. And when you’re talking about a room that’s approaching its 130th birthday, there was a lot to be done!

Beginning in January 2023, visitors to the Senate Chamber will probably discover a space that looks and feels very familiar with a handful of noticeable changes, such as the new elevated and relocated “well”, or speaking area for Senators, and the larger and more ergonomic amendment clerk desk. The updates have left the Chamber looking like a newer, shinier, brighter version of itself, while also improving safety and accessibility for those who conduct their business within its walls.

Blending the old with the new in a building as ornate as the Capitol was not without challenges, but the renovations allowed crews to improve upon existing and beloved structures within the Chamber. Highlights included restoring all 35 Senator desks and the Senate Staff front desk, which were all original to the space; polishing and restoring all existing brass fixtures; updating the Senate lobby, including adding a new President’s Marble; carefully replicating the original filigree stenciling on the Chamber walls; sandblasting and painting the metal vents; and preserving a long-forgotten nineteenth-century rug that lay quietly for decades underneath the historic bill safe.

Renovating the Chamber’s Floors

Arguably, the largest change to the Chamber is one that most visitors will never see: a completely renovated floor and sub-floor. One of the primary motivations behind this round of updates to the Chamber was to make the room more resistant to fire, and construction crews accomplished this through several months of diligent efforts and precise “floor work”.

Once a team of movers took all the desks out of the Chamber in early July, it became possible to begin the massive task of removing, updating, and reapplying the materials that make up the Senate’s large floor.

OLLS staff and all who visited the Capitol over the summer will likely remember the extensive scaffolding on the south side of the building that was present throughout the warmer months. Construction crews used this scaffolding to support a “rubbish chute” made of linked trash cans so they could more efficiently remove debris and trash from the Chamber during the project.

What, exactly, had to be done? First, contractors carefully removed the original floorboards, made of Douglas fir, as well as the three inches of unexpected concrete they found underneath. These workers then spent approximately the next month reinforcing and rebuilding the sub-floor using steel joists and new concrete panels before carefully replacing the top layer of flooring.

In addition to its reinforced floor and new out-of-sight sub-floor, the Chamber now contains new carpet that very closely resembles the pattern and color of the original carpet. The room is still predominantly red and gold and will feel much like it did during the 2022 session, but those who look closely will notice the beauty in the details brought out by months of hard work over the summer and fall.

One hidden feature is a time capsule that Senate Staff carefully prepared and that the renovation crew placed in a corner of the Chamber deep below the new carpet. Newspapers and miscellaneous items from 2022 will help freeze time inside the capsule and, decades or even centuries into the future when the Senate floor is renovated once more, crews will discover a new piece of Colorado history.

An Improved Audio Experience

While the Chamber floor was undergoing renovations, the construction team also made significant updates to the access points for the AV and IT systems that run throughout the new flooring system. Future maintenance and updates should prove much easier than in the past as a result of the renovations, and those using hearing aids will also have an easier time listening to floor proceedings during future sessions.

A “hearing loop” system now exists within the floor structure in the Senate Chamber, and this loop will provide an improved listening experience for all users with a T-Coil feature on their hearing aid. Going forward, compatible hearing aids will also have the functionality to stream audio during session straight from the Senate using an app.

Paving the Way for Future Sessions

As the decade-long series of renovations in the Senate Chamber winds down, Senate staff are excited and hopeful about how the changes will improve time spent in the Chamber for years to come. The space is now more fireproof, more accessible for those with disabilities, and more modern from the inside out.

From the more efficient electrical setup and the 2022 time capsule that now both live beneath the floor to the sparkling golden fixtures throughout, the renovated Senate Chamber honors the Colorado Capitol’s architectural history while making room for a smoother, more modern and streamlined user experience during future sessions.