Maryland State House is like taking a walk...

VISITING THE

June 16, 1996

VISITING THE Maryland State House is like taking a walk through history. As you enter the nation's oldest state capitol in continuous use, you're walking on marble floors once trod by Thomas Jefferson and other members of the Continental Congress. The old Senate chamber looks the same as it did when Gen. George Washington resigned as this country's commander in chief. Tiffany glass ceilings sparkle in the "new" (finished in 1905) House and Senate chambers.

The 200-foot-tall wooden dome, still with much of the original building material, towers over Annapolis. Experts call the building an engineering and architectural marvel. There is no doubt of its historic importance.

And yet the State House is a troubled building. Its roof leaks. The decorative "acorn" atop the dome is filled with dry rot. Both the governor's suite of offices and the lieutenant governor's quarters are under constant siege from wet, crumbling plaster and peeling paint.

Cosmetic problems are easily remedied. Not so the underlying structural defects. At the age of 217 -- the Assembly first met in the State House in 1779 -- it is time to find out what's wrong and put the building in shape for the next two centuries.

Surprisingly, no detailed study has ever been made of the State House's structure. That should be a priority. What are the historic elements that ought to be preserved? What are the most urgent repairs? Is any part of the building in danger of collapse?

The last time the State House underwent major renovation was 1947. That's nearly half a century. Not many facilities in active use are allowed to go without major upkeep that long.

Not only is Maryland's State House living testament to the nation's history. It is the true seat of government, where the governor presides and the General Assembly holds its annual 90-day sessions. This generation is the custodian of this historic building. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to preserve the State House for future generations.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

Saving the State House; Costly job: After 217 years, it's time to make major structural repairs.

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