Governor Phil Bredesen and First Lady Andrea Conte celebrated the dedication of Conservation Hall Thursday night with members of the Tennessee General Assembly, former First Families, members of the State Building Commission and Tennessee Residence Foundation, and other guests. Conservation Hall, which is connected to the Tennessee Residence, was built with private funds to provide the official home of Tennessee’s First Families space to better host official functions, it was stated.
“Now this historic home and this beautiful new facility are ready to serve the state’s needs for the next 50 to 100 years,” said Governor Bredesen. “This is a property in which all Tennesseans can take great pride.”
First Lady Conte marked the occasion with the announcement that the Tennessee Residence has been awarded LEED certification by the Green Building Certification Institute and the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED is the nation’s preeminent program for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. The state also plans to seek LEED certification for Conservation Hall in a separate application.
“This is wonderful validation of the state’s work to make the Tennessee Residence more energy efficient and to reduce, reuse and recycle even throughout the extensive restoration work that has been done on the original home,” said Ms. Conte.
More than 50 years of playing host to the affairs of the state of Tennessee took a toll on the Residence. Bredesen and Conte announced long-range plans for its restoration and preservation in November 2003. The restoration included replacing deteriorating doors and windows, updating mechanical and electrical systems, adding a geothermal system to heat and cool the building, and bring the Tennessee Residence into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The geothermal system has helped reduce the home’s heating and cooling costs and supports both the Residence and Conservation Hall, and many of the materials taken from the Residence during restoration have been repurposed,” Ms. Conte said.
Textile artists from across the state used the remnants from draperies removed from the Tennessee Residence to create quilts and wall hangings. Sculptures in the home and on the grounds were created from the rocks removed during the excavation of the basement, and wood sculptures were also created using wood recovered from trees on the property.
The Tennessee Residence achieved LEED certification for energy use, lighting, water and material used as well as incorporating a variety of other sustainable strategies. By using less energy and water, LEED certified buildings save money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to a healthier environment.
Meanwhile, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research called Conservation Hall "a disastrous boondoggle for taxpayers."
The group said, "Repairs to the Governor’s Mansion began in 2005 with the worthy goal of making the residence more accessible for Tennesseans with disabilities. Unfortunately for taxpayers, Bredesen and Conte expanded the project to include a complete renovation of the home, featuring a $321,393 kitchen overhaul, $14,436 dimmer switches, nearly $11,000 for an upstairs wet bar and the addition of an entertainment venue – which became Conservation Hall. In total, the renovations cost an estimated $25 million, with tax dollars funding the bulk of the expense."
“The Tennessee Center for Policy Research (TCPR) pleaded with the Governor and state officials to build a new governor’s residence rather than paying millions more to renovate the mansion than it was worth,” said TCPR President Drew Johnson. “The extravagant mansion renovation was a monumental error in judgment by the Governor and an insult to hardworking taxpayers.”
Mr. Johnson said the Governor’s Mansion was appraised in 2005 at a value of only $900,100 and the home holds no particular architectural or historical importance, serving as the governor’s residence for less than 60 years.
He said, "Unfortunately, despite budget shortfalls resulting in the layoffs of hundreds of state employees and a reduction of government services to Tennesseans, renovation of the mansion and construction of the Conservation Hall continued.
"Archimania, the Memphis-based architecture firm heading up the bunker project, was selected to design it shortly after the company’s owner, Barry Alan Yoakum, gave a sizable donation to Gov. Bredesen’s reelection campaign. Even worse, just weeks before the Bredesen Administration awarded a $197 million incentive package to Nissan, the automaker contributed $100,000 to the renovation project.
“As the Governor dedicates Conservation Hall this evening, I hope he takes a moment to dedicate it to struggling single mothers whose tax dollars went to subsidize the lavish renovations, the former state employees whose jobs could’ve been saved if not for the cost of the bunker and the millions of taxpayers who will never be invited inside the mansion to see what they helped to fund.”