Preparations for the first phase in renewing the Cannon House Office Building have begun, launching a construction project that will continue over the next 10 years.
The $757.7 million project is revitalizing the oldest congressional office building, which, according to Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers, is "showing its age." “The exterior of the building is crumbling and we’ve had to take important safety measures over the past few years to prevent objects and stone from falling off the exterior of the building," Ayers said at a Friday briefing. "The interior is slowly deteriorating as well, whether it’s falling plaster that’s centuries old, or a century old, pipes bursting … or mechanical systems that simply are inoperable today.”
Cannon opened in 1908 and has not been completely revitalized since the 1930s. With rusted pipes and deteriorating marble laid out in front of him, House Office Buildings Superintendent William Weidemeyer explained that revamping the building cannot be delayed.
"The century-old building is plagued by safety, health, environmental and operational issues that are rapidly worsening," Weidemeyer said. "These systems are deteriorating or inoperable and unable to meet the current or future needs of the Congress.”
The construction will be divided into five phases, each lasting two years. Preparation for "phase zero" began in late December, and will involve installing building systems in the basement and the moat areas of the courtyard. Offices within Cannon will not be affected until work begins on the next four phases in December 2016.
The next four phases will renew one wing of Cannon at a time, meaning the wing under construction will have to be vacated. An estimated 32 member suites will have to be vacated in each wing, and members and staff in those offices will be dispersed among the Rayburn and Longworth House office buildings.
Committee and support staff who lose office space during the shuffle will be moved to the Ford House Office Building or the O'Neill Federal Building, southwest of the Capitol.
Each construction phase will coincide with the congressional election cycle, so the office shuffle due to construction will occur at the same time that members of Congress are moving to their new offices.
Though staff might be inconvenienced by the move, the construction supervisors note that they need complete access to member offices during the renewal project, since much of the damage is to the building systems behind the walls.
"The renewal will replace and repair the key building systems such as heating, cooling, power, lighting, plumbing, fire safety, and roofing,” Weidemeyer said. In addition, the renewed building will include a revitalized 5th floor. Currently, not every elevator in Cannon reaches the 5th floor, making it a last choice for new members during the suite selection process . But, after construction is complete, the 5th floor will be completely accessible.
Weidemeyer noted that Cannon will be in a constant state of construction over the next decade, though there will be efforts to limit disturbances. “In order to maintain a tight schedule, construction will take place day and night, with most of the noise-producing activities taking place after Congress is out of session,” he said.
The long-term budget for the project is more than $750 million. "Not all of that money has been appropriated to date," Weidemeyer said. "We have enough money to accomplish the initial phase of construction and we rewarded a contract for that work to be done.” He also noted the initial phase would cost just over $100 million.
The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.