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AOC Finds Extensive Plaster Damage Outside House Gallery

The Architect of the Capitol construction team repairing plaster in the hallway outside the House Gallery has discovered the damage is much more extensive than originally expected and the repairs will likely take double the time anticipated.

Crews initially thought they would find “just peeling paint and a little deteriorating plaster, but we have a wholesale deterioration of that plaster,” project manager Perry Caswell said Monday morning.

Without the repair work, which started two weeks ago, chunks of plaster were “probably” at risk of falling from the ceiling, Caswell said when asked by CQ Roll Call about the potential for falling debris.

Fortunately for those who work on the House side, the project will continue even if the federal government grinds to a halt Oct. 1.

Although the AOC is one of the many legislative branch agencies bracing for a potential shutdown if Congress is unable to agree on a spending plan to keep the federal government funded, Caswell said this particular project will continue.

Funds for the plaster repair were included in the fiscal 2013 appropriation for the AOC, and the work is being completed by in-house employees, not outside contractors.

In his March testimony to the House Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee, Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers listed reduced contractual work as one of the shifts the agency has made in an attempt to “work smarter and leaner” with reduced resources.

“In the House and Capitol jurisdictions, we are modifying and reducing their contractual services and performing more maintenance and construction activities in-house without any increases in manpower or payroll.”

Capitol plaster repairs are one of many ongoing projects for the AOC. In many parts of the building, plaster has cracked under the stress and weight of multiple paint layers, a result of decades of repainting wall and ceiling surfaces. A paint analysis allows the AOC to record what finishes were used in the past before making repairs.

Significant portions of the decorative painted plaster in the hallway behind the House Gallery have let go of the foundation of the ceiling, creating potentially dangerous conditions for the employees who traverse the hallway each day. The plaster is three layers thick and all three layers are deteriorating, Caswell said. The AOC is consulting with Mary Oehrlein, the AOC’s historic preservation officer, on repairs.

A sign posted by the AOC to explain the scaffolding that stretches along the hallway says the repairs are anticipated to take four to six weeks, “with the completion planned for the end of October.”

Caswell now says the repair work will likely take twice as long, probably stretching through November.

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