AUGUSTA — The century-old copper encasing the State House dome hasn’t yet come down as part of this year’s restoration project, but interest is building in what to do with the old metal.
Work has already begun to repair and upgrade the 12-foot-tall Lady of Wisdom statue on top of the dome, and the removal and replacement of the dome’s copper, oxidized green after decades atop the State House, is expected to begin in the second week of June, said David Boulter, executive director of the Legislative Council. The $1.3 million project is scheduled to be completed by the end of October, he said.
Boulter said a significant number of people have asked about how to get the copper, ranging from artists to people wanting pieces for mementos.
Most of the 7,000 square feet of copper coming off the dome will be sold to lower the cost of the project, but lawmakers on the council voted Monday to have the facilities committee decide what to do with the metal and whether to set aside more of the it for something besides salvage.
Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said he’s heard from former State House employees wanting pieces as keepsakes and from jewelers wanting to use it for jewelry.
“I think there’s a lot of interesting opportunities, and it really is a historic opportunity,” he said. “Thousands of people have worked here, and they’d really like to have a piece of the dome.”
Sen. Anne Haskell and Rep. Seth Berry, both Democrats, said they would like to see creative uses of the copper by artists or jewelers.
Berry, of Bowdoinham, said the 500 square feet of old copper the council is planning to set aside could be used up quickly by a sculpture. He said the council could consider auctioning a bulk of it off for uses besides salvage, like the Bangor Public Library did earlier this year with the old copper from its roof.
The library replaced its century-old copper roof last year, and auctioned off pieces of artwork made with the old metal in January.
Rep. Alex Willette, R-Mapleton, said his concern is the cost of the project could rise if the state sells all of the copper designated for salvage. That copper is expected to bring in around $15,000, Boulter said.
Before the meeting, Boulter said there is also the potential to receive significant amount of revenue by auctioning off the copper.
The restoration project, funded from a Legislative Council account, is being done because holes have formed in the copper sheathing, allowing water in. However, the most obvious change is the roof won’t be green for at least another three decades.
“When the new copper goes on, it will be bright, shiny copper, what you’d expect from a new penny,” Boulter said.
The new-penny look will turn to a dull brown in around six months when the copper oxidizes, a result of exposure to atmospheric oxygen. The dome won’t gain its greenish hue for another 35 years or so, Boulter said.
The dome was part of an expansion to the building in the early 1900s to add north and south wings to accommodate larger House and Senate chambers. Like the also-copper Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, green patina developed over many years.
Maine’s State House is one of nine state capitols with a copper dome, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The replacement project will be done in three phases to limit the amount of time the roof is without the copper sheathing, Boulter said. Currently, workers are in the process of regilding the dome’s statue and replacing the lighting in the torch with updated electrical materials and a more efficient LED bulb.
The Legislative Council’s facilities committee is expected to decide what to do with the copper sometime in June.
“I think the imagination is probably the limit for what it could be used for,” Boulter said.