Kennebec Journal: Work begins on restoration of State House dome, ‘Lady of Wisdom’
By Susan McMillan
AUGUSTA — The scaffolding is going up, and in a matter of weeks the copper will come down.
The $1.3 million restoration of the State House dome has begun. The project consists primarily of replacing the dome’s leaky copper sheathing, which dates to an expansion of the building in 1909-10.
“The workmanship back then was just excellent, but it needs to be replaced so we don’t have problems with the structure of the dome itself,” said David Boulter, executive director of the Legislative Council.
Holes as large as dimes have formed in the copper, allowing water to seep in. In addition to replacing the sheathing, workers will repair and upgrade the gilded “Lady of Wisdom” statue that tops the dome.
Crews began work in late March. By mid-May, they should be finished erecting the staging, Boulter said. The scaffolding will encase the entire dome. Removal of the old copper will begin by early June, and the whole project is expected to be completed in late October.
“We do not want to go into the winter without that project being fully completed,” Boulter said.
When the State House’s oldest section was completed in 1832, it had a low, saucer-style dome. The current dome was part of the 1909-10 expansion, which added the north and south wings to accommodate larger House and Senate chambers.
“At that point everyone realized that by enlarging the building horizontally, it would significantly change the proportions of the building, and thus there was a need to have a new, much higher dome,” State Historian Earle Shettleworth said.
While most of the State House is built of granite, architect G. Henri Desmond designed a steel support structure for the dome. Gardiner sculptor W. Clark Noble created and donated the Lady of Wisdom sculpture, which is 12 feet tall, including her pine torch.
The statue is mostly in good condition, but most of the gilding that used to cover the copper has come off because of age and weather, Boulter said. The dome project includes regilding the statue and replacing the lighting in the torch with updated electrical materials and a more efficient LED bulb.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Maine’s State House is one of nine state capitols with copper domes. Shettleworth said it’s a common material for domes because copper is fairly pliable and can be shaped to architectural forms.
The new copper will be bright and shiny, like a new penny, for about six months, before it oxidizes and turns a dull brown. It won’t regain its green patina for 30 to 60 years, Boulter said.
Shettleworth said the patina is a decorative feature that suits the building well, and he thinks it will be interesting to watch the dome’s color change.
Associated Press: Maine begins issuing photo ID welfare cards
BANGOR – Maine on Monday began issuing welfare benefit cards with photos on them in an effort to crack down on fraud and abuse, despite urging from the federal government to wait until it can ensure the state’s plan doesn’t negatively affect recipients or retailers.
John Martins, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said about 30 photo electronic benefit transfer cards were issued at the Bangor office as of midday.
The process is starting on a voluntary basis in Bangor first so the state can try out the new system. Eventually, welfare recipients across Maine will be required to have photos on their cards, which are used to buy food and other necessities.
Some recipients, like those younger than 19 and those 60 or older, will be exempt.
In a letter Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture asked Maine to delay issuing the new cards until it can fully review and approve the state’s plan. USDA officials said Maine could lose federal funding or face litigation if it violates regulations in the program.
Advocates for the poor say photos on EBT cards are ineffective at combating fraud and are costly.
The startup costs are $165,922, according to the department. It will cost the state $4,154 annually going forward.
DHHS said Friday it would move forward with its plan, saying that the federal government’s opposition “defies common-sense logic.”
Commissioner Mary Mayhew said the one-office launch will help the state identify potential problems and weaknesses with the new system before cards across the state are required to have photos.
Maine Unemployment Rate Drops Again to 5.9 Percent
Maine Hiring Continues to Outpace National Average
AUGUSTA – The Maine Department of Labor announced today that the state’s unemployment rate continues to drop. In March, the percentage of Mainers who were unemployed fell to 5.9 percent, marking the first time the figure has been under 6 percent since 2008.
Maine’s 5.9 percent unemployment rate is well below the national average of 6.7 percent.
According to Governor Paul LePage’s Office, the number of private sector jobs is up 9,100 over the past year. Those increases have been seen primarily in professional and business services, retail trade, leisure and hospitality, education, healthcare, and financial activities.
Senator Andre Cushing (R-Penobscot), who serves on the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, says it’s another example of Republican efforts to improve Maine’s business climate paying off.
“Once again, the sound fiscal policies and accountability of our Governor, supported by Republicans in the Legislature, have encouraged small and large business owners in Maine to take the risk of expanding their businesses and creating new jobs. The real winners are the hard-working people of Maine.”
The 5.9 percent unemployment rate is down from 6.1 percent last month, and 6.8 percent one year ago. The number of unemployed in Maine declined 6,700 over the past year to 41,800.
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Senate Republican Leader Says GOP Accomplished Much for Maine Citizens, Despite Being in Minority
AUGUSTA – Maine lawmakers worked into the early hours of Friday, April 18 before finishing the work of the Second Regular Session of the 126th Legislature. The second session of the Legislature is the shorter of the two and typically concludes in April. The first session lasts until June.
Senate Republican leader Michael Thibodeau (R-Waldo) says Republicans, despite being in the minority, were able to make major gains on behalf of Maine citizens. The Maine Senate is comprised of 19 Democrats, 15 Republicans, and 1 Independent.
Senator Thibodeau said paying back nearly a half billion dollars in debt to Maine hospitals that was the result of Medicaid services that went unpaid was among the top accomplishments. “That debt was a black eye for Maine,” Senator Thibodeau said. “In addition to affecting our credit rating, it represented a failure to pay our bills. Thanks to Governor Paul LePage and Republican leadership in the Legislature, we were able to pay down this debt, and in the process secure a state liquor contract that maximizes the proceeds of liquor sales for the State of Maine.