NASHVILLE, Tennessee – As the historic Cordell Hull Building renovations are nearing completion and legislators and staff are moving their offices from the War Memorial Building/Legislative Plaza, so, too, is the public starting to make their way to visit and tour the new home to the Tennessee General Assembly, where they may be surprised to discover new additions that lock the public out of the legislative process.
The more than 300,000 square foot 11-story building constructed between 1952 and 1954 in the art deco architectural style, after nearly being demolished, underwent a top to bottom renovation approved in 2015 at a cost of $136 million, as a less expensive alternative to renovating the General Assembly’s four decades long home of the War Memorial Building/Legislative Plaza.
Three floors of the Cordell Hull Building are occupied by legislators, with Senators taking up one and Representatives taking up two floors. The speaker of each house has a suite on their respective floor. State administrative offices, including Department of Treasury occupies some of the space.
Legislators are now all treated to individual offices, none of them being shared as in their previous location, and all being positioned on an outside wall, allowing for a window in each office. Legislators who happened to be in the new building the day The Tennessee Star visited were unanimous in their positive comments regarding the clean and mold-free environment of their new location.
Legislative offices are at least as accessible as they were in the War Memorial Building, with a bank of six elevators to reach the appropriate floor and then wide, brightly-lit corridors lead to the well-marked, freshly painted, carpeted and furnished offices.
It is on the ground level of the Cordell Hull Building, where the House and Senate Committee Rooms are located, that the substantive, non-superficial change is found: Locked doors to the corridors connecting the Committee Rooms, accessed only by legislators and those with the code for the electronic keypads.
Had the same locks been in place during the gas-tax increasing IMPROVE Act committee meetings, The Star would not have captured the photo evidence of the collusion between Transportation Committee Chairman Barry “Boss” Doss, Governor Haslam’s representatives and House leadership including Republican Majority Leader Glen Casada, Democrat Leader Craig Fitzhugh and Speaker Harwell’s Senior Policy Advisor, Leslie Hafner.
This photo of a blueprint provides the details of the layout of the Committee Room level. The areas locked to the public, can best be identified at the top of the photo where it is marked “corridor.” The locked doors are found where the corridor intersects with the center area labeled “main corridor.”
Fortunately for Senate and House leadership, if they so decided, it would take rather minor modifications to non-structural elements to make all areas of the legislator’s new home as accessible to Tennesseans as the old.