November 13, 2019
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Legislators up in the air about what to do with copper that topped State House dome

Pat Wellenbach | AP
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Plans for what the Maine Legislature will do with the more than 7,000 square feet of copper being replaced on the State House dome remain up in the air.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Like the material itself, plans for what the Maine Legislature will do with the more than 7,000 square feet of copper being replaced on the State House dome remain up in the air.

The Legislative Council met Tuesday and set in a motion a plan to get more details on what can be done and how much copper they might reasonably expect to salvage or reuse.

Work on the dome started in March and is expected to conclude in November.

The 10 lawmakers who serve on the Legislative Council also said they would look at whether the $1.3 million renovation project for the State House should trigger the state’s Percent for Art program, which requires 1 percent of the total cost of public building construction or renovations that cost more than $100,000 go toward art in the facility.

“I am a particular fan of being sure that we use some of this for artwork,” assistant Senate majority leader Anne Haskell, D-Portland, said. “I think there is likely to be significant amount of interest in a project where we could put together a contest of sorts.”

Haskell said she also believed some of the copper could be sold or auctioned to people who would want a memento of the building, particularly state employees or lawmakers who have worked in the State House.

The entire copper covering of the State House’s iconic dome is being replaced this summer, a project that will change the color of the dome from its current aged green patina to a shiny new copper. It will take about 30 years for the new covering to turn green as the metal oxidizes over time.

The state originally contracted to have 500 square feet of the old copper salvaged while the contractor doing the renovation would get salvage rights on the remaining copper, valued at an estimated $15,000.

On Tuesday, the Legislative Council asked officials at the Maine Arts Commission to help them come up with a plan for using some of the copper in a way that helps preserve state history as well as creating some art. The copper may be sold, auctioned or given to artists based on proposals they make for using it to create Maine-centric art for the state.

Along with others on the committee, Haskell also suggested at least one small section of the roof be saved, as is, for a display to show what the dome looked like prior to the renovation.

The idea for the state may want to keep more than 500 square feet of the original copper came up during a Legislative Council meeting earlier this month. House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said he believes there’s broad interest in doing more with the copper than the state initially anticipated.

Other lawmakers on the committee, including Senate Republican leader Mike Thibodeau, Winterport, said they support the idea of doing something artistic with the old copper but also wanted a practical plan for disposing of the copper in a cost-effective way.

“It’s a logistics thing to me,” Thibodeau said. “I think it’s a wonderful idea if we can make this available to a whole host of people and the art community may be one of them.”

But equally importantly was what the state did with the copper in the meantime, Thibodeau said. Where the state stored the copper and how much it would cost to do that — along with a plan to ensure it doesn’t just get stored away without ever being used — is key, Thibodeau said.

“I don’t have to figure out what they are going to make out of it,” Thibodeau said. “I just need to figure out how to get it off the roof in a cost-effective manner, put it some place safe and not cost the taxpayers a fortune in the meantime.”

Berry agreed having a practical plan was important to the process.

David Boulter, executive director of the Legislative Council and the official responsible for the State House grounds and buildings, said the copper alone was a valuable commodity.

“We could take it off the dome and put it on the lawn and the next morning it would be gone, if we are not careful,” Boulter said.

The state would need to decide how much copper it wants to save and then rent a portable storage unit to secure it until it is distributed, Boulter told legislators.

The Legislative Council, which has ultimate say over the State House building, voted to have the arts commission come back in late June with additional information.

Berry said lawmakers should make a careful plan for recycling the material as artwork or scrap in order to get the most value out of it for taxpayers and citizens.

“This is the people’s house,” Berry said. “The artistic value, the cultural value, the participatory value is very important.”

Berry also said it’s important the council follow the same laws the state requires other public entities to follow with the Percent for Art program.


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