August marks the beginning of the end for a special place in the Illinois Capitol.
State officials are closing the west wing of the grand old building for renovation work in the middle of the month, and that means the end of the Statehouse press room in its current location on the mezzanine level of the Rotunda.
Crews will upgrade the heating and air conditioning system and install a new stairway to serve as an alternative route out of the building during an emergency. The fire escape will go straight through offices now occupied by reporters for a couple of newspapers.
It’s not just members of the media horde who are being displaced by the construction. House and Senate Republicans, located one floor above and below the press room, are moving into temporary quarters for the duration of the more than yearlong project. Some Senate Democrats also are being booted out until the work is complete.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford’s ceremonial Capitol office on the second floor also will be relocated.
Beginning in mid-August, for the first time in 16 years, I won’t be walking into the Capitol on my way to work.
The press corps is being temporarily housed in a warren of offices in the nearby Stratton Office Building, which connects to the Capitol by an underground walkway. Some of the newspapers and broadcasters will be sharing office space in the new digs during the renovation period.
The temporary arrangements will mean changes for everyone who brings you news about how your tax dollars are being spent and what your elected officials are doing in Springfield. Phone numbers might be switched. Desk space will be more cramped.
We’ll definitely have to walk farther to get to the floor of the House and Senate to view the action, and inaction.
At least we’re not being moved into a bathroom. That’s what’s happening to the Capitol tour guides during the construction. Workers are reconfiguring a women’s restroom so they have a place to sit in between visiting groups of school children. Let’s hope they give them regular chairs.
The move will mean the end of the Blue Room, for at least a while. The Blue Room, named for its blue backdrop, is where news conferences have been held for decades. You’ve probably seen the room on TV and didn’t know it is tucked away in between the second and third floors of the Capitol.
I’ve covered everyone from Barack Obama to Nancy Pelosi in the Blue Room. I’ve also covered people who said they could fly if they meditated hard enough. Let’s just say they bounced around a lot, but they didn’t fly.
Two corrupt governors, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, pretty much stopped using the Blue Room for media events because it didn’t offer them an easy means of escape when the questions started getting tough. Pat Quinn used to use the Blue Room quite a bit, but since becoming chief executive, he’s apparently adopted the practice of his predecessors.
In all, there about two dozen full-time reporters who call the press room home. During the legislative session, that number can easily triple as various media outlets send reporters to Springfield to keep tabs on the action.
For the past few weeks, reporters have been deciding what to keep and what to throw away. Files dating back decades are either being put into storage or tossed away. I recently put a “Glenn Poshard for Congress” button in a box for safekeeping.
Some things I just can’t bear to throw out. I think I’ll save the police report from when state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, punched state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, at the end of the 2011 spring session. It makes me chuckle.
I’ll also keep an old letter from former U.S. Rep. Tom Ewing of Pontiac complaining that I wasn’t treating him fairly. My boss at the time, Jan Dennis, called it a badge of honor.
When the workers pound the final nail and turn on the lights on the renovated west wing, we’ll be moved back into the Capitol, but in a different location, one floor down from our current digs.
To commemorate the old space, members of the Statehouse press corps — past and present — will be gathering in the press room at 6 p.m. Friday.
We’ll say goodbye and move on to the next story.