AUGUSTA, Maine — The weathered green copper that has crowned the Maine Statehouse for decades is now a fading memory.
Workers are nearing the end of a more than $1 million, months-long project to replace the century-old copper sheath, making the dome look like a shiny penny and setting the Capitol abuzz.
The dome's new look has drawn praise from many in Augusta, but those that preferred the old hue will have to wait a while for the same rich green to develop. Officials expect the copper will soon fade to brown and stay that way for roughly 30 years before exposure to air and rain turn it green again.
"It's possible that many of us who approved this roof replacement and have served under this dome for many years ... will never live to see it again with that color," said Democratic House Leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham.
The 7,000 square feet of old copper that's being removed dates back to when the building's original low-saucer dome was replaced with a taller structure in 1909 with the expansion of the Statehouse building, said State Historian Earle Shettleworth.
Postcards depicting the Statehouse over the last decade show that the dome turned green sometime around the end of World War II, or the mid-1940s, he said.
The sheath over the dome's steel frame was supposed to last only 50 years and had become riddled with nicks and dents over time, causing some water to seep in, officials said.
When it became clear that a replacement was necessary, lawmakers had initially considered gilding the dome, but decided that the cost was too hefty, Berry said. Furthermore, they though it was important to maintain Maine's tradition and uniqueness, he said.
Four of the other statehouses in New England have a gold dome, while Rhode Island's was made using white marble.
As the weather quickly gets cooler, workers are busily putting the finishing touches on the project, which started in the spring as lawmakers finished their session.
Most of the copper on the curved part of the dome that's visible from the ground has already been replaced. The "Lady of Wisdom" statue that stands on top has also been re-gilded and her torch has received a new light.
Work remains on the lower part of the dome structure that's painted white. The entire project is on track to be done by early November, said Suzanne Gresser, acting executive director of the Legislative Council.
Bipartisan legislative leaders on the council are now grappling with what to do with the old copper. The group is expected to meet later this month to consider a proposal to turn some of it into art and memorabilia for the public.
The idea, recently approved by the State House Facilities Committee, includes selling or giving some of the copper from the dome to jewelers, artisans, sculptors and schools. Some it would be used to make commemorative artifacts and other parts would go toward creating public artwork for the Capitol complex.
For many who've worked in or near the Statehouse for years, watching the dome's once-in-a-lifetime transformation has been thrilling.
"To be able to witness such a significant change, which is literally a 100-year change in the building ... it's a very exciting experience," Shettleworth said.
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