The first signs of construction in the almost $60 million Capitol Dome restoration project will appear in the Rotunda in late March, Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers announced Friday.
Beginning April 12, the iconic space between the two chambers will close completely for 17 days as workers install a canopy to protect Rotunda traffic from any falling debris as crews go to work on the 150-year-old structure above.
“Although a majority of work restoring the dome will be conducted at night and on weekends to minimize disruption to congressional business, it is necessary to close the Rotunda for a two-week period to allow the installation of overhead safety netting,” Ayers said in a statement. “Once in place, the netting will ensure the safety of all who enter the Capitol for the duration of the two-year restoration project,” he added.
Those traversing the Rotunda during the first and final stages of the project will have to pass through a covered, 96-foot walkway, assembled to protect passersby from canopy construction. The doughnut-shaped fabric canopy will stay in place for the duration of the project, while still allowing views of “The Apotheosis of Washington” fresco, depicting President George Washington on his ascent to the heavens.
Other artwork, statues and parts of the flooring will be blanketed with protective covering in late March as the contractor prepares for installation of the netting.
Ayers said more information about how the Rotunda closure will affect Capitol tours would be forthcoming. The last time the Capitol community braced for significant exterior renovation of the Dome was 1959. Since then, the elements have taken their toll, resulting in more than 1,300 cracks.
The dramatic restoration project put a halt to Dome tours on Dec. 13, making the exclusive walk-throughs a hot commodity among congressional offices. Reporters and photographers got a peek at the soon-to-be-closed Dome on Dec. 19.
Outside the Capitol, trucks have already begun delivering equipment for work stations on the West Front. Rings of scaffolding should start to rise from the roof this spring.