Rotunda Reopens Thursday, Topped by 6,100-Pound Doughnut

Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers points to the protective canopy covering most of the Capitol Rotunda ceiling during his news conference on the reopening of the Rotunda to tourists on Wednesday. The Rotunda was closed while construction crews prepared the space for the restoration of the Capitol dome. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A giant white doughnut, clocking in at 6,100 pounds, graces the upper reaches of the Capitol Rotunda.  

The Capitol Hill community will get its first glimpse of the thick layers of safety netting ringing the 96-foot room on Thursday morning, when the space reopens -- two days after originally scheduled .  

They had better get used to the view. The doughnut will be in place for at least 18 months, Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers said Wednesday night in a briefing for media.  

Five layers thick, the doughnut has been specially tailored to protect those traversing the space from falling debris during the Capitol Dome restoration. If the netting was unrolled it would span 14,700 square feet -- an area approximately the size of two tennis courts. Ayers said it could capture and hold as much as 500 pounds of debris.  

Visitors can still see the Apotheosis of Washington spanning the ceiling, though the thick netting casts some shadows on the fresco. Other artwork in the Rotunda, including the eight historic paintings ringing its perimeter, remained covered by protective materials on Wednesday night. Ayers said it will be removed over the next few days.  

"We watched the contractors carefully," he said, referring to the 19 days crews worked on the closed Rotunda. "They didn't do any damage."  

Ayers is confident the entire restoration will be completed in time for 2017 inauguration activities.