There have been a lot of changes lately on Capitol Square, most of which now looks like a giant construction site. In fact, the alterations are so significant that the General Assembly and the governor have been evicted, temporarily, from the Capitol building.
As you may have heard, the Capitol itself is undergoing the most extensive renovation since the wings housing the House and Senate Chambers were added a century ago. Virginia is preparing for the 400th anniversary of the landing at Jamestown next year. Consequently, a lot of our tourist attractions, including the Capitol, are being upgraded and improved.
Where exactly do you put 140 members of the General Assembly, the Governor’s Office, and their respective staffs when the building they are intended to occupy is unavailable? In this case, the General Assembly has begun meeting in the Patrick Henry Building, located next to the Governor’s Mansion, just two buildings away from the General Assembly Building, where we still have our offices. The Patrick Henry Building, built in the 1930s, was originally the Library of Virginia and now has undergone a dramatic renovation to be used for office space. The House and Senate Chambers have been recreated in two large rooms on the first floor of the building, where your General Assembly will be conducting its business for the 2006 legislative session.
If you watched the Governor’s State of the Commonwealth Address or saw news footage from the House Chamber, you might have noticed the difference. Our temporary space isn’t quite as grand as the Chambers we normally occupy, which were originally designed by Thomas Jefferson. Traditional legislative desks have been supplanted by what most people in the business world know as “training tables.” Still, all of this works very nicely.
One unfortunate change is that the temporary chambers do not have a gallery for our constituents to sit and watch the proceedings. The House and Senate Galleries in the Capitol are large balconies, from which visitors can look directly down on their legislators as they conduct the Commonwealth’s business. Unfortunately, you can’t easily add a balcony to accommodate more than 100 people to an existing room. Because of this, visitors now have to view the proceedings via closed-circuit television in a room adjoining the temporary chambers. Still, groups visiting the assembly are introduced and applauded by legislators, even if we can no longer wave to them from below.
If you want to follow the progress of the restoration of Virginia’s Historic Capitol, the project has its own Web site, www.virginiacapitol.gov. There, you will find everything you need to know about the restoration, which is supposed to be completed in time for next year’s General Assembly session, which begins next January.
If you want to visit us during the General Assembly session, please call us at 703-437-9400 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will give you some helpful tips to make your stay more enjoyable.