CVC Watch

Posted July 30, 2007 at 5:56pm

One place where the term “August recess” doesn’t really mean a whole lot is the Capitol Visitor Center construction site, where Congress leaving town only means fewer interruptions for the teams working to complete the largest addition in the Capitol’s history.

Among the many CVC-related activities scheduled to take place before Congress returns to town is the closing of a 10-year-old exhibit at the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building. “American Treasures of the Library of Congress,” which has been toured by approximately 2.5 million visitors since opening in 1997, will be shutting its doors for good on Aug. 18 to enable the LOC to begin construction and installation work on a visitor project of its own to complement the CVC. [IMGCAP(1)]

With a theme of “bringing knowledge into life,” the project is described as a multimedia “visitor experience” that will feature several new exhibits and a vast online component that LOC officials hope will keep visitors connected to the Library long after they finish their tours on Capitol Hill.

The project (which in recent months dropped the working title “New Visitor Experience”) will cost approximately $22 million to complete, and most of the new exhibitions will be located on the second floor of the Jefferson Building’s Great Hall. However, as Librarian of Congress James Billington repeatedly has told Congressional overseers, the new visitor project is being funded entirely through privately raised funds and it will not require any major new construction at the Jefferson Building.

As of this month, the LOC has raised about $15 million for the project “and we’re very optimistic about some other prospects that would put us much closer to our goal,” Library spokesman Matt Raymond said on Monday.

After the “American Treasures” exhibit closes this month, work crews will spend the rest of August and September installing electrical and data connections on the mezzanine level of the Great Hall. While some portions of the Great Hall will close during that time, Raymond said the stairs and elevators to the mezzanine level will remain open, as will the area around the Minerva mosaic and the stairs to the Main Reading Room Overlook.

From October 2007 to April 2008, portions of the first floor surrounding the Great Hall (including the North and South galleries) will be closed off to prepare those areas for exhibit elements and interactive features. But even during that period of activity, the main center court of the Great Hall will remain open for visitors and tourists at all times, Raymond said.

As part of the project, the Library is looking to design a new orientation gallery where visitors will receive individual electronic “library cards” that will allow them to “bookmark” specific exhibits and continue their learning experience online after they leave.

Two of the main new features will be a gallery on the history of the early Americas and the reinstallation of Thomas Jefferson’s original 6,487-volume library, both of which will incorporate new interactive technology.

The connection between the CVC and LOC is more than just a shared mission of educating the millions of visitors who come to Capitol Hill each year. The two facilities also are being physically connected via an underground tunnel.

The $10 million tunnel, which is being built with Congressionally appropriated funds as part of the nearly $600 million CVC, is about 200 yards long and opens directly into the Jefferson Building.

According to CVC Project Manager Bernard Ungar, wall and ceilingwork on the tunnel is substantially complete, save for a 40-foot section that lies beyond a security barrier erected by Capitol Police to keep unauthorized individuals from wandering into the CVC.

Ungar said Architect of the Capitol officials are aiming to begin the pre-testing of emergency systems such as fire alarms in the tunnel in mid-September or mid-October. He added that the AOC does not expect to go over the $10 million cap that was originally put on the project, a concern that the Government Accountability Office has raised in past CVC progress reports.

Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), who has been one of the more involved Members in the CVC project, said after a tour of the facility on Monday that he’s pleased the tunnel project is moving forward.

“I think it’s important because the Library of Congress was intended to be a part of the operation of the Congress itself and Members use it a lot for research, so we need to have that more direct connection, so I was pleased to see this project move ahead,” Allard said.