The Maryland Senate has spent nearly $200,000 to build a flag-draped platform for chamber members to conduct television interviews, Senate Speaker Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore) announced Thursday.
The money was used to install television lights, monitors, an audio system, a Capitol Hill-style lectern, numerous American and Maryland flags, plush red carpeting, and a raised platform.
Ferguson used the setup for the first time on Wednesday, the first day of the legislature’s 90-day session.
The Senate Media Center was built in a previously underused room in the Miller Senate Office Building across from the State House. Ferguson’s aides have insisted that – despite the splashy new interview area – he will continue to hold informal “gaggles” on the Senate floor.
In a note to colleagues, Ferguson described the $198,000 in “renovations.”
“The room had not been used in recent history for its intended purpose and had no 21st century media capability,” he wrote. “The renovated Senate Media Center provides all senators with a venue and opportunity to communicate with constituents and the press during the session and interim.”
He said the media center was part of a two-year, $120 million plan to replace the Department of Legislative Services Building, a cramped and outdated structure on Lawyer’s Mall that will be razed in June.
The building “has deteriorated significantly, become prohibitively expensive to maintain and difficult, and at times, a dangerous working environment for employees,” Ferguson wrote.
To prepare for demolition, DLS work was moved to open spaces in the House and Senate office buildings, including meeting areas where senators previously held large press events.
Ferguson’s memo to colleagues came a day after reporters inquired about the cost of the media center upgrade. In addition to the memo, the Leader of the Senate discussed it during Thursday’s session.
“There are no open spaces in any of the House or Senate office buildings,” Ferguson said. “It’s jam-packed with a print shop and mail room and all of our amazing DLS staff. So we had to make some adjustments in how we think about space and how we use it.
While such spending may be controversial, Senate Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) offered no criticism.