CVC Watch

Posted September 17, 2007 at 6:42pm

With construction more than 95 percent complete at the Capitol Visitor Center, work crews have begun to focus on what people will experience once they visit.

Of all the many roles the CVC will play — better organizing Capitol tours, shifting security concerns, offering another place to eat — perhaps none is more paramount than the center’s role as the museum of Congress. [IMGCAP(1)]

The CVC’s 16,500-square-foot Exhibition Hall will serve as the center of that museum space, offering visitors a unique look at Congress, from its early beginnings in Philadelphia to its current role in drafting and approving legislation.

Contractors last week completed the installation of photo mural backdrop images in the eight House and Senate history cases, which will provide a visual history of Congress.

Environmental readings in the hall, which was drawn up by museum design firm Ralph Appelbaum Associates, are ongoing, as workers prepare for a 60-day testing period for its environmental control systems. But once those systems are given the green light from contractors and inspectors, installation of documents, images and artifacts can be completed.

When it opens, the Exhibition Hall will triple the amount of exhibit space that currently lies in the Capitol Crypt (and is hindered by 40 sandstone columns).

Unlike some of the Smithsonian museums down the road, the hall will not serve as a history museum, but rather will focus on the legislative process, according to CVC spokesman Tom Fontana.

“Today, because of time constraints, visitors can only be provided a brief civics lesson before getting a short tour of some of two or three ceremonial spaces within the Capitol,” Fontana said. “In the Exhibition Hall, historic documents will illustrate how Congress and the Capitol have grown and evolved.”

Visitors will be able to view documents showcasing how Congress has dealt with economic, environmental and cultural challenges, Fontana said, as well as learn the processes that move legislation and how Americans can take part.

The space also will include interactive features such as a virtual tour of the Capitol and a Congressional quiz, designed by Cortina Productions, which specializes in interactive media for museums.

And like the Capitol itself, the Exhibition Hall will be home to a Senate and House theater. The two spaces are designed to look like their respective chambers, and each will feature live video feeds from the chamber floors.

At the entrance to each theater, visitors can get basic information about the chamber and look up their own Members of Congress. Visitors also will be treated to a short film focusing on the history of each chamber.

The entrance to the actual exhibition gallery might provide the most in-depth look at the Capitol itself, as it will feature a 3-D model of the Capitol Dome. The interior of the model will showcase how the Dome was constructed, giving visitors a lesson not only in history but in architecture.

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With Congress back in session, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch will resume its monthly oversight hearings of the CVC next week.

The hearing is planned for 10 a.m. on Sept. 25 in the Rayburn House Office Building. Witnesses scheduled to testify include acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers, CVC Project Executive Bernie Ungar, an AOC fire marshal and Terry Dorn, director of physical infrastructure issues for the Government Accountability Office who has monitored the project, according to a spokesman for Subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

Of particular interest will be whether AOC officials announce a delay in the CVC’s opening. At the last oversight hearing in July, Dorn predicted that the testing of emergency systems would push back the opening date until November 2008, while Ayers said a September 2008 opening remained possible.