After a decade of restoration, work has been completed in the Arkansas State Capitol's House chamber. Members of the press were invited Wednesday to see the final phase of the restoration. The final phase included the restoration of the floor and installing new desks, which were constructed to match the original 1914 design by F.H. Peckwell, a Little Rock architect. He drew up plans for desks in both the House and Senate chambers, which were never built.
Speaker Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado) said legislative leaders wanted to be consistent with what was planned over 100 years ago.
"It has been noted in some of the information, the desks we have here are based on the original desks that were designed at the time, but were ultimately never actually installed here in the house," he said.
The desks are the final step of the phased restoration project that began in 2008, with the restoration of the perimeter columns and refurbishing of the upper-level balconies.
Underneath the carpet in the House chamber is an audiology wiring loop so that people who are hearing impaired will be able to hear the intercom. Gary Clements, the architect in charge of the project, said it will work with high tech hearing aids.
"Whenever they turn on the sound system, I’ll be able to pick that up through Bluetooth," he said. "So that’s going to help the members that don’t hear very well be able to get it directly through their hearing aids."
Speaker Shepherd justified the project saying it's necessary from the standpoint of what he called "the people's house."
"I see the amount of tourists and individuals that come through the State Capitol that come in – even when we’re not in session – that come in and this is really a representation of the state of Arkansas," said Shepherd.
Steady improvements have been made on the House chamber throughout the decade. In 2010, the north gallery was reconstructed to eliminate the 1960's paneling. Two years later the Secretary of State restored the exterior skylight and stained glass dome which had been leaking for many years, according to officials. 2014 marked the project's next milestone with the ceiling of the House chamber being restored, including the restoration of the stained glass dome and chandelier.
Clements said the reason why the project took 10 years is that each phase had to be completed between legislative sessions. Shepherd said he hopes the restoration will evoke a sense of history and responsibility for the House members, "that what we do here is much larger than ourselves."