Capitol Makeover

$720,000 renovation upgrades legislative halls, cafeteria

Posted: Thursday, November 24, 2005

For months, craftsman John Carlson and a crew of seven, including his wife, have worked long hours in Haines on furniture to revamp Juneau's state House and Senate chambers.

Fueled on coffee, both regular and instant, Carlson works from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night.

His six workers typically put in eight hours per day, with a few chipping in hours on weekends.

Carlson's wife, Marian, helps out with the veneer press.

So far, they've sent 40 mahogany desks from Haines to the state Capitol.

"It's worked out so I can put my van on the state ferry (to Juneau)," Carlson said.

That arrangement hit a snag this week when the Lutak Road washed out, blocking access between Carlson's cabinet shop and Haines' ferry terminal.

But Carlson had a critical shipment of desks on Wednesday night. "I thought I'd just go for it. It's a pretty heavy-duty van. I managed to forge through," he said.

Legislative open house

• The Alaska Legislature will host an open house from 2 to 6 p.m. Dec. 6 in conjunction with the Governor's Mansion's annual open house. Staff will serve cocoa, cider and holiday candy.

• A Christmas tree will feature ornaments sent to Juneau from each of the legislative districts.

• The Senate and House chamber galleys will be open so the public can get a preview of the renovations.

• For more information, call Rep. Pete Kott's Juneau office at 465-6626.

The previous desks occupying Senate and House chambers were installed in 1960 and were made of laminated plywood.

As required by his contract, Carlson's sleek new desks are made from the dwindling commercial supply of Honduran mahogany - the same wood used elsewhere in the Capitol.

Carlson orders the wood from Emerson Hardwood Co. of Portland, Ore. "They seem to be the only ones carrying it," he said.

The desks are set up for Internet wiring.

A toggle switch on the desks' front panel will allow legislators to turn on a small heater to warm their feet. This small luxury was included in the project because some legislators have complained about their feet getting cold in the chambers, said Pam Varni, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency.

"Those rooms tend to get cool in the wintertime," said House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez.

The entire renovation project in the Capitol this fall and winter costs $720,700 and goes beyond replacing desks and podiums.

The second floor has been recarpeted and the legislators' cafeteria is getting a top-to-bottom renovation.

The Alaska Legislative Council, a permanent legislative committee that conducts the Legislature's out-of-session business, approved the spending on July 13, Varni said.

Carlson and his crew have 20 more desks to build this winter.

Then, they'll refurbish the podiums for the speaker of the House and Senate president and their staffs.

The installation deadline is Jan. 10, Carlson said.

His last project is building two narrow and elongated mahogany tables where journalists will sit during the chamber sessions.

The chambers' aisles have been widened to meet handicapped accessibility standards.

But the new orientation of the podium in the House chamber may cause some difficulties for Gavel to Gavel, the KTOO-TV program that records the session.

"I have concerns, but I don't know if they are problems yet," said Randy Burton, Gavel to Gavel's producer and director.

Television camera operators may have some trouble negotiating their equipment around a tight corner near the House speaker's podium, he said.

In Haines, however, the construction project is providing "a shot in the arm" for local workers.

Usually, Carlson is the only one working at his shop in the winter.

"I had a couple big kitchen projects in the works but I've had to put those off. This project was more interesting than kitchens, anyway," Carlson said.

Carlson has built furniture for the Governor's Mansion in the past. He is a third-generation woodworker who got his start at his grandfather's factory in California. He moved to Haines in 1977, and he once made a desk for the late Gov. Jay Hammond.

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