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Fate of the Old State House Is Uncertain

by | Jun 29, 2016 4:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Arts, Courts, Education, State Budget, Hartford

Christine Stuart photo By the end of today the Old State House on Main Street in Hartford will close its doors to the public.

The building, which for 83 years housed Connecticut’s government, fell victim to the state’s budget woes and took those who maintain it by surprise.

Up until the General Assembly adopted the budget in mid-May, the Old State House had been run by the Office of Legislative Management, which contracted with the Connecticut Public Affairs Network to provide educational programming.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which is struggling to maintain its existing 109 state parks after it received a $10 million budget cut, will now be in charge of the Old State House.

“We are working with Legislative Management on the transfer,” Dennis Schain, a DEEP spokesman, said earlier this week.

Last week, the DEEP announced it was reducing lifeguard coverage at the popular shoreline beaches of Hammonasset, Rocky Neck, Sherwood Island, and Silver Sands. It will also reduce lifeguard coverage at Black Rock, Burr Pond, Indian Well, and Squantz Pond Parks. Hours of operation for several nature centers and state park museums were also reduced. The changes are expected to save about $1.9 million.

Christine Stuart photo James Tracy, director of legislative management, said they are still in the process of transitioning the Old State House and it would be premature to comment on exactly what will happen to it. He said they are working a transition plan.

There is $400,000 in the state budget to operate the Old State House. However, the contract for the Connecticut Public Affairs Network to operate the educational programming cost more than $500,000.

“We understand how valuable it is as a historic site,” Schain said.

In a letter to board members, Sally Whipple, executive director of the Old State House, said they will close their doors on June 29 and they have no indication as to when it will reopen. She reiterated that the decision came as a surprise to all parties.

Whipple said she believes they will still be able to operate the Farmers Market, which is held outside the Old State House every Tuesday and Friday throughout the summer. There’s also a chance that the outdoor concert series will continue.

Christine Stuart photo But access to the building and its museum will end today.

And at the moment it’s still unclear if the Connecticut Public Affairs Network will continue to have a relationship with the building.

Bill Bevacqua, vice president of administration and communications for CPAN, said they are very proud of what they’ve done with the building over the last eight years and the programming and partnerships they have been able to provide.

“I know everyone is working hard to find a way forward,” Bevacqua said.

In the past month, the Old State House has won a national Leadership Award for its Kid Governor Program as well as two national first place prizes and two special prizes at National History Day.

It’s not the first time the building has faced an uncertain future.

In 1915, the Old State House, which had been turned over to the City of Hartford for use as a city hall was abandoned. In 1921, former Gov. Morgan Gardner Bulkeley formed a group known as the Bulfinch Ten to raise funds to preserve the Old State House, but the building remained without a clear purpose.

Then in 1961, it was named a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior and the Connecticut Historical Society took over managing the building. In 1975, a group of citizens again saved it from being torn down for more parking.

In 2008, Legislative Management acquired a 99 year lease from Hartford to manage the property.

In May, the General Assembly transferred management of the property to DEEP.

The museum store will be open today from 10 to 4 p.m. and a majority of the items for sale will be 20 percent off.

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