The Tennessee State Capitol building was designed by renowned Philadelphia architect William Strickland, who modeled it after a Greek Ionic temple. The lantern is a copy of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens. The Capitol’s cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1845, and the structure was completed 14 years later in 1859. It is home to the Tennessee legislature and the governor’s office.
You will find statues of Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson, two of the three Tennessee residents who served as president of the United States, on the Capitol grounds. The second president from Tennessee, James K. Polk, is buried in a tomb on the grounds.
The Tennessee State Capitol is located on Charlotte Avenue between Sixth and Seventh avenues. Guided tours of the Capitol are provided free of charge by the staff of the Tennessee State Museum.
David Carpenter, building and facilities management specialist of the Tennessee State Capitol, provided some insight on the buildings. For five years, David has worked as the facility manager for the State Capitol Complex, which includes the Tennessee Capitol building, the War Memorial building and plaza surface, and the Legislative Plaza. David is responsible for the buildings, systems and customer service.
DES: The building has been around for over 150 years and is rich in history. What is the most interesting story that has come from inside the Capitol walls?
David Carpenter: Actually, July 4, 2015, will mark 170 years since the cornerstone was set. There are so many fantastic stories; it is truly difficult to focus on just one. There was the secession from the Union, the expansion of voting rights through black men’s suffrage and women’s suffrage, and so many other significant legislative stories.
We have hosted guests that include presidents, vice presidents, international dignitaries, business moguls, musicians, and movie andTV stars (Elvis Presley, Little Richard,Bill Gates, Dolly Parton, Kix Brooks, Vanessa Williams and the stars of the TV Show “Nashville,” just to name a few).
The mere mention of a topic can send the memory reeling to a person, comment or situation. I guess since you mentioned things from inside the Capitol walls … the old statement joke that “you must know where the bodies are buried” comes to mind. Many people do not realize that we have four bodies buried on the Capitol grounds. The building’s architect, William Strickland, is buried in a crypt in the north wall. Samuel Morgan, member and later chairman of the Capitol Commission during the building’s construction, is buried in the south wall. And, in the east garden of the Capitol, President James K. Polk and his wife, Sarah Childress Polk, are buried in a tomb designed by William Strickland.
DES: Does Metro DES supply both heating and cooling for the building? How long has the Capitol been using Metro DES?
David Carpenter: Yes, DES provides both chilled and hot water for the facility air handlers to use when heating and cooling the building. The Capitol has been using steam as a heat source since 1889, when a boiler plant was located on the north side of the grounds. Metro DES has been providing the building with hot and chilled water for over 45 years, since the thermal plant was built in the 1970s and then from the new Metro DES plant that was built in 2003.
DES: How long have you managed the building, and what responsibilities does this include?
David Carpenter: I started working at the Capitol in 2009. A quick response would be I am responsible for the buildings, systems and customer service; but the scope of responsibilities is actually very broad. The Capitol Complex consists of the state Capitol building, the War Memorial Building and plaza surface, and the Legislative Plaza. I oversee facility maintenance and life safety systems, meeting tenant needs and supporting their endeavors, event management (large and small), project management, and day-to-day operational needs and communication. Someone once described me as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I have always loved that metaphor. My excellent staff and I aim to please and support the state employees in any way we can.
DES: As you know, the Capitol has a rich architectural heritage. What is your favorite part about the Capitol building?
David Carpenter: Again, the building and all of its nuances are captivating, and it is difficult to pick just one aspect – from the entire building perched on the tallest hill and how it impacts the skyline to the 42-foot ceilings of the second floor and the columns in the House chamber, each made from one single piece of limestone. Transporting those without any mechanical assistance in the 1850s would have been a daunting task. The view from the north balconies ties the Capitol grounds into the Bicentennial Mall and surrounding neighborhoods. I consider myself blessed to be in the position I am in. The Capitol is truly an architectural jewel belonging to the people of Tennessee. If you have not toured it, I would encourage you to do so.
DES: What benefits do you see with the building’s being on the Metro DES system?
David Carpenter: Metro DES provides clean affordable heating and cooling for the Capitol and other buildings of the complex. We work in partnership with the Metro DES staff to ensure that service is consistent and within parameters. We interact when there are maintenance needs or concerns. I have a point of contact for emergency situations, and they are extremely responsive. Thanks, Chuck Tucker!
DES: Working in a place that is filled with important political leaders, there is a lot to do. What would you say is your favorite part about your job?
David Carpenter: That is probably the easiest question. The people and the opportunity to serve! I work alongside some of the greatest people you would ever want to meet. The community in these facilities is very committed to their constituents, the people of Tennessee. It is a wonderful feeling to be of service to these fine leaders and their staff members.