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The panel also put forth three recommendations that the AOC could implement to help bring Russell up to code.
Option 1 is the bare-bones approach: install automatic sprinkler systems and complete all fire detection systems at no additional cost. Option 2 would call for the installation of a compartmentation scheme, placing special doors at key areas in the building to close off smoke from spreading through corridors. Option 3 proposes a complete overhaul of the smoke control system, but the OOC said that would be so expensive and disruptive that Option 2 would be the best route for the AOC to take.
The AOC requested $5 million in 2011 to implement Option 2; the Senate Appropriations Committee denied the request.
“Implementation of the short-term and immediate recommendations, in addition to implementation of Design Option 1, eliminates all high risk fire scenarios in the Russell building while minimizing impact to its historic integrity, most effectively utilizing limited resources,” reads the Appropriations Committee’s report accompanying its fiscal 2012 budget request from September 2011.
In a nod to fiscal constraints, the committee report continues to say that when more money becomes available, it “should be expended on other projects and deferred maintenance requirements that have a greater impact on life and safety throughout all the Senate office buildings.”
It is not clear at this point what steps the OOC might take next in forcing the relevant stakeholders to comply with the terms of the 2000 citation, which is still outstanding as far as the agency is concerned. Though it has done so only one other time in its short history — when the AOC would not take measures to clear underground tunnels of asbestos — the OOC could choose to file legal action to compel the AOC to act.
OOC general counsel Pete Eveleth, in a statement to Roll Call, said he doesn’t see anything stopping the AOC from moving quickly.
“The Architect of the Capitol recently completed a compartmentation project in the Longworth House Office Building that fully abated the building’s fire safety hazards and fully preserved the building’s historic integrity. A similar compartmentation project is now underway in the Cannon House Office Building, which is architecturally similar to the Russell Senate Office Building,” he said. “We are hopeful that the Architect will be able to proceed with a similarly effective abatement plan for the Russell building now that the economic and technical feasibility of compartmentation as a solution has been so clearly demonstrated.”