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Ailing Old State House Object Of Two Rescues

Governor, Legislators Offer Separate Financial Plans

April 12, 2007
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced a $600,000 plan Wednesday to give the financially troubled Old State House a one-year reprieve while a working group ponders its future. But legislative leaders say they will announce today a $2.2 million commitment of their own to take over the landmark building entirely.

For four years, the Connecticut Historical Society has been the steward of the building on Main Street in Hartford and the programs inside. But this year, the society informed the legislature that the $600,000 annual cost of running the building and the programs is too much to bear. Without support from the state or other sources, the building could close at the end of June.

Legislative leaders have been working on a plan to take over the facility in the upcoming budget and rethink its long-term options. But on Wednesday, Rell announced that she had taken care of at least the next year of operations by getting $600,000 approved by the State Bond Commission. That money will go to the Old State House along with a one-year assistance agreement, she said.

"The Old State House is a treasure that is a part of Connecticut's cultural identity," Rell said in a press release. "We cannot allow it to be neglected. ... Its place in Connecticut's history must be forever preserved."

Rell is also proposing to establish a working group made up of members of her staff, the General Assembly, and various state agencies to come up with a plan by Jan. 1, 2008, for the future of the Old State House. Meanwhile, she said, the city will continue its ownership of the building.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr. welcomed the governor's funding commitment but said he is less interested in a working group than he is in a plan he's been working on to have the state take control of the building entirely.

"We believe that we will have the resources available to do that," said Williams, D-Brooklyn. "I think it's going to get us all to where we want to go and hopefully be able to do that more quickly than studying it for a year and then taking action sometime in 2008."

That sentiment was echoed by House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, whose staff said the budget proposal being released today will include $2.2 million for the "care and control" of the facility.

"Unlike the governor, who wants to study the problem with some ad hoc working group, the legislature is ready to step in now to save this cultural treasure," Amann said.

The Old State House rests on the site where, in 1639, English colonists enacted the first written constitution guaranteeing the right to representative government. Inside the Old State House, the celebrated trial of the African captives from the ship Amistad began.

Kate Steinway, executive director of the historical society, said she was encouraged by the interest of both the governor and the legislature.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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