The Arkansas House of Representatives is getting upgrades to its historic chamber and committee rooms at the state Capitol building. New desks, carpeting, chairs and voting machines will feature prominently in the House chamber, which is already undergoing renovations.
Gary Clements of North Little Rock-based Clements & Associates is serving as the consulting architect on the project. He said the upgrades are the final steps in a larger project for the chamber.
“The House of Representatives developed a master plan for the chamber about eight years ago, whenever Rep. [Barry] Hyde was the chairman of the House Management Committee,” Clements said. “Rather than doing odds and ends, he wanted to establish a plan to follow. We’ve been following his plan, now we’re down to the last step which was the desks and the carpet.”
Clements has served as a consultant to various agencies, including the Secretary of State’s office and the Arkansas Senate. In a phone interview, Clements said the project’s main goal is a redesign of representatives’ desks to allow for greater accessibility.
“We are replicating, actually we’re constructing, a desk that was designed in 1914 that was never built,” Clements said. “It’s got a narrower top on it… and all that area is going to go to the space between the chairs and the row behind them. So they’re actually going to be able to walk, get better access because if you’re in the middle of a row, you can’t get out.”
Clements said the structure of the existing House chamber desks dates back to the 1960s, with its last redesign in 1986. The last renovations to House first-floor committee rooms also date back to the mid-to-late 20th century. Additionally, analog voting machines on lawmaker’s desks will be replaced with digital ones, matching the chamber’s previously upgraded digital display screens.
“Historic preservation is a whole lot different from designing a new building. Historic preservation is more like a duty, because it’s not about us, it’s about the people of the past… especially the state Capitol, which is such a significant building,” Clements said. “We started early, and started fixing up one area at a time, and so after 30 years of working on one area at a time, our Capitol is getting into a good condition now.”
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported a projected cost of $1.25 million based on contractor estimates. Clements said the project’s deadline is before Oct. 15, though it could be completed sooner.