With frigid winds whipping around the 288 foot-tall Capitol Dome, Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers said the next phase of the nearly $60 million restoration project has begun.
Ayers told reporters gathered on the roof of the Capitol Tuesday that the scaffolding surrounding the Dome was complete, which he said was "a significant milestone."
“The purpose of the scaffold is a very practical one," said Ayers. "With its completion, workers are now able to access the Dome freely and can use the equipment necessary to begin the restoration work in earnest.” And those workers will be spotted on the 25 levels of scaffolding throughout the winter months, according to restoration construction manager Joseph Abriatis. There is enough scaffolding pipe to span 52 miles and the structure weighs more than 1 million pounds. But Ayers pointed out that the scaffolding hangs from the Dome and is evenly distributed, so there is not an extra million pounds of pipe sitting squarely on the Capitol's roof.
Abriatis detailed the next phases of the project, which include removing the lead-based paint, repairing cracks in the cast iron, repairing and recasting ornaments, and repainting the Dome with more than 1,215 gallons of paint. The final coat of paint on the structure will be the color, "Dome White."
Workers demonstrated each phase of the process, including donning a white suit worn to remove the lead-based paint. Paint removal has already begun on the East Front of the Capitol and Abriatis said the workers use a special device and compound to blast the paint off. He noted the device "is used to remove 14 layers of paint from the dome, some of which are over 150 years old.”
After the paint is removed, the workers will embark on an extensive crack and ornament repair process, which includes quality control checks at each phase. An inspection team documents the defects and repairs using tablets with software that catalogs each step.
“Once all the repairs are made, we’ll be repainting the Dome from the top-down. As the painting is completed, the scaffolding will be removed," said Abriatis.
The cost of completely restoring the Dome could be more than the AOC's projected $125 million. In March, the Government Accountability Office determined the projection was not entirely reliable and "lacking key analysis."
But Abriatis said Tuesday the project was currently on schedule and on budget. The restoration process, which began in early 2014, is expected to be complete before the next presidential inauguration in January 2017.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., ranking member on the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the AOC, said the restoration was a priority for him and his fellow lawmakers.
"We worked $60 million into the FY 14 budget to make sure that this work is done," said Hoeven. "And to make sure that this work is done for the next inauguration so that when the next president is sworn in, the people of America can see their Capitol and their Dome and be comfortable and confident that, just like this great nation, it’s here for the long term.”
The 150 year-old Dome was last restored in 1960, and Ayers said Tuesday he was confident this project would sustain the dome for another 50 years, and hoped it would actually endure for 75-100 years.
“This work on the exterior of the Dome will be complete by next fall," said Ayers. "This is an incredibly complex project and it takes a team of talented employees and talented contractors to make it happen.”
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