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Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
The committee room in the new Senate building has technological features such as video broadcast capabilities.

Utah's new Senate and House buildings on Capitol Hill will do more than change the landscape.

"The public will have a better ability to watch and hear their legislators," said David Hart, executive director of the Capitol Preservation Board and architect of the Capitol.

Construction on the two buildings started in 2002, after the Winter Olympics. The buildings were constructed to match the architecture of the Capitol.

"There aren't a lot of bells and whistles," Hart said. "The design is subservient to the state Capitol so (the buildings) don't overshine or overshadow the state Capitol."

"When it's done, I think we will have a tremendous facility, one that will be as open and accessible for the public as any Capitol in the U.S.," he said. "Maybe more so."

Some of the advanced technological features include committee "back up" rooms for video broadcast when galleries are overcrowded, a teleconferencing center and small monitors and large flat-screen televisions in galleries for presentations.

Lower ceilings and raised pedestals are two other features, which were significantly cheaper to construct than popular "stadium seating" and provide easier viewing.

The idea for Senate and House buildings came from drawings by the Capitol's original architect, Richard Kletting. In his master plan, drawn early in the 20th century, Kletting drew a quad with three additional buildings. He noted that in time, the state of Utah would grow and the additional buildings would be needed.

If estimations are correct, the two new buildings will serve the state Legislature for at least 25 years. As Utah grows, it is estimated staff at Capitol Hill will grow by 17 percent and an additional 165,000 square feet of space will be needed.

The buildings have been constructed for flexibility and accommodation, as the short-term and long-term uses of the building are different.

While the Capitol goes through a four-year restoration process, the Legislature will be housed in the Senate and House buildings. Hart said sacrifices will have to be made, as the Legislature will be moving from a 310,000-square-foot Capitol to the buildings, which total 180,000-square-feet.

"The Legislature is moving to a building with less space," he said. "That's quite a big difference. They're all accepting certain limitations."

Not all leaders will even have offices, Hart said.

Once the Capitol is complete, the buildings will be converted to permanent use. Hart said the process will take about six months and simply involves moving office spaces. Building space that is on parking lots will be removed, and the total square footage of the buildings will decrease to 160,000 square feet.

"For the next three sessions, it is going to be different," he said. "It's not a perfect solution, it's meant to be temporary."

The buildings surround a central garden and reflecting pool. The garden includes flowers and shrubs that represent various cities and topographical regions of the state.

"It's my own personal opinion that we have better government when our legislatures have a place they can meet with constituents and discuss things (rather than) in the hallway where they are getting bombarded," Hart said. "It will be well worth the three years sacrifice."