Repairs to historic Pennsylvania House chamber prompt three-month hiatus for lawmakers

Officials became aware of water damage to the ornate and historic ceiling last summer

By: - December 7, 2023 5:42 pm

The Pennsylvania House chamber. (Capital-Star photo by Peter Hall)

After lawmakers leave Harrisburg for winter recess next week, the state House chamber will close for three months as a costly repair is made to its ornate and historic ceiling.

While the House will convene on Jan. 2, as required by the state Constitution, and on Feb. 6, for Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget address, lawmakers will not return for a regular voting session until March 18 due to the repairs. 

The joint session of the House and Senate for Shapiro’s budget message will be held in the Capitol Rotunda, House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) told lawmakers in an email Tuesday.

“I am fully confident that we will have a productive and meaningful Spring 2024 session, even as we work through some of these scheduling obstacles,” McClinton said in her email. 

The hiatus comes about halfway through a legislative session in which House Democrats have lost and restored what Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) termed the caucus’ “humble majority” of 102-101.

It also coincides with yet another resignation and vacancy that will leave the chamber split 101-101 until it is filled in a special election. Rep. John Galloway (D-Bucks) will resign to take a position as district judge to which he was elected this year.

By not scheduling any session days during the vacancy, the House avoids the likelihood of a partisan stalemate in which the chamber is unable to pass any legislation or the possibility of lawmakers being forced to take politically unpopular votes. 

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McClinton’s spokesperson Nicole Reigelman said in a statement that Galloway’s expected resignation played no role in setting the repair project’s timeline.

Reigelman said McClinton’s office learned of the severity of damage to the chamber’s mural-adorned ceiling during the summer and that the repairs would take 10-to-12 weeks to complete.

“The winter was the least intrusive time frame since the Legislature traditionally breaks for budget hearings for multiple weeks in February and March,” Reigelman said, adding that a session week was added this month to minimize disruption to the calendar. 

The House is scheduled to hold votes on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

Department of General Services spokesperson Eric Veronikis said the damage was caused by a burst heating coil above the chamber ceiling. The work will cost about $150,000, with a large portion – about $121,000 – required for scaffolding and floor protection.

Veronikis said the department coordinated with the House on the schedule and work is set to begin Jan. 5 and end by March 18. The scope of the repair to the historic artwork is being overseen by the Capitol Preservation Committee. 

The five murals in the House chamber were created by Philadelphia-born artist Edwin Austin Abbey. They include a circular painting named “The Hours” on the chamber ceiling which depicts the hours of the day as human figures dancing in the firmament. 

(This post was updated at 6:50 p.m., Dec. 7, 2023, to correct the name of McClinton’s spokesperson.)

 

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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.

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