AUGUSTA – As they renovated the governor’s suite in the State House, workers made an intriguing discovery: a steel safe door embedded in the wall of one of the offices. Behind it – surprise – no safe.
Instead of removing the thick steel slab from what was once part of the state treasury, workers left it in place.
“We put a wall back in front of it,” Stan Fairservice, who is overseeing the State House renovation, said as he stood in front of the freshly plastered section. “When somebody does this wall 50 years from now, they’ll find it again.”
The discovery was made around the time contractors cleared a major if noisy hurdle toward completion of the $32 million State House overhaul. All of the blasting to remove granite ledge under part of the historic, domed building was completed.
With the removal of an estimated 80 truckloads of rock that was dynamited and chipped away, workers can now complete an underground passageway connecting the State House and State Office Building.
And Gov. Angus King, who was exiled from his State House office to the Blaine House amid all of the blasting, can reoccupy his old space Jan. 13 after the renovations there have been completed. The Legislature resumes its session the first week in January.
Renovations in the executive offices include restoration of elaborate cornices that were damaged or partially removed during earlier projects. The last major upgrade of the State House, whose main wing is nearly 170 years old, was in 1910-11.
It also includes the finer work of restoring the central stairway between the second and third floors of the State House. Earlier this week, workers wearing protective masks were removing multiple layers of paint from cast iron filigree beneath the banisters.
While ledge below the West Wing was being removed, an elaborate structure of steel I-beams was put in place underneath to temporarily support the 160,000-pound section. The main beam alone weighs 10 tons.
Steel and wood supports were also built into the large window openings in the curved wing of the granite structure to carry some of the load, Fairservice said.
When blasting ended Dec. 21 and all of the granite detritus was hauled off, a cavernous opening was left at the rear of the State House. That set the stage for completion of the underground connector to the State Office Building.
The newly configured passageway will end at a stairway rising 20 feet to what will become the grand entrance to the State House. An elevator will also be installed.
Part of the tunnel has already been built and the portion closer to the State House will take shape through the winter. When it’s finished, dioramas featuring Maine animals will be built into the walls and skylights will provide natural light.
The connector is scheduled to be reopened to the public by the end of April or early May, said Fairservice.
On the Net: Weinrich + Burt Architecture: http:///www.weinburt.com/