Beginning in November, the Capitol’s iconic cast iron Dome will undergo a dramatic restoration project, Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers announced Tuesday.
For approximately two years, the central focal point of the campus will be surrounded by scaffolding and all Dome tours will be put on hold as the structure undergoes its first restoration in more than 60 years.
“As stewards of the Capitol for the Congress and the American people, we must conduct this critical work to save the Dome,” Ayers said in a release. “From a distance the Dome looks magnificent, thanks to the hard-work of our employees. On closer look, under the paint, age and weather have taken its toll and the AOC needs to make repairs to preserve the Dome.”
Outside, a scaffolding system will stretch from the base of the Statue of Freedom to the Dome skirt. Within the Rotunda, a white doughnut-shaped canopy will protect the project, while still allowing views of the “Apotheosis of Washington” fresco featuring George Washington on his ascent to the heavens.
Those traversing the Rotunda during the first and final stages of the project will have to pass through a covered walkway, assembled to protect passerby from canopy construction.
The timing of the restoration project means that two of Washington’s most iconic structures, the Washington Monument and the Dome, will both be under repair and latticework scaffolding at the same time.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., one of the biggest champions of providing funding to the Dome restoration project, applauded the announcement.
“This is very good news and it comes at a fitting time,” Hoeven said in an email to CQ Roll Call. “The Capitol Dome is more than just a beautiful structure: it’s a symbol that must be preserved. Completed during the Civil War, it serves as an icon of the enduring union of our country and a reminder that more unites us as Americans than divides us. That was an important message in the 1860s and it’s an important message today, as well.”
The last significant exterior renovation of the Dome took place from 1959 to 1960. During that project, the Dome was stripped of its paint so the ironwork could be repaired and primed with a rust inhibitor.
Age and weather damage, though, continue apace, and the Dome has sustained more than 1,000 cracks and deficiencies, according to the AOC. Rain, snow and sleet have infiltrated tiny pin holes in the Statue of Freedom and the cracks of the exterior. Rust has also become an issue.
“If these repairs are not made, the artwork in the Rotunda, including the Apotheosis of Washington and the Frieze of American History, are at a great risk of damage due to water leaks,” according to the office.
Close to $60 million has been authorized for the project. The AOC used a competitive bidding process to select the contractor, and the office plans to incorporate lessons learned from a 2012 restoration of the Dome skirt that was completed on budget and on time.
The bulk of the work will be conducted at night and on the weekends, with the goal of not disrupting Congress or the Capitol’s many tourists.