CVC Watch

Posted December 3, 2007 at 6:32pm

With construction more than 97 percent complete at the Capitol Visitor Center, crews spent Thanksgiving recess focused on a relatively simple yet pretty important task: hanging signs.

[IMGCAP(1)]Workers will continue to put in signage throughout the CVC this week, including installing the overhead signs that will help staffers and visitors find their way around the 580,000-square-foot facility when it opens in November 2008.

Such signs already have been installed in the CVC’s upper-level east and west lobbies, and near the entrance of the tunnel to the Library of Congress, according to CVC spokesman Tom Fontana.

Crews are almost finished installing pin-mounted bronze letters that identify major interior spaces on the upper and lower levels of the CVC’s public spaces, Fontana said.

Like the hanging of signs, much of the construction work that remains at the CVC consists of minor detail work and punch-list items that can be completed while Architect of the Capitol experts focus on testing the facility’s complex fire- and life-safety systems.

In the Exhibition Hall — the space that is designed to explain the unique history of Congress — construction crews will stay busy installing bronze railings. The installation of similar railings is nearly finished in the Senate atrium, and crews will get to work installing railings along the spiral staircase in the House stairwell atrium this week.

And while construction is wrapping up inside the CVC, things are ramping up outside.

When crews first began construction in 2002, one of their first duties was to dig the really big hole that would become the CVC.

More than 50,000 truckloads of dirt were removed from the Capitol’s East Front, which severely disrupted its park-like atmosphere, originally designed in the 1870s by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

Olmsted oversaw landscape efforts on the Capitol grounds from 1874 until he retired in 1885 (although he served as an adviser on the project after his retirement). While Olmsted’s other landscapes were often designed to be the center of attention — New York’s Central Park is one example — the tree-lined Capitol grounds were designed to supplement the Capitol Dome.

With internal construction nearly finished, crews can work to revive — and hopefully improve — upon Olmsted’s vision for the East Front plaza.

That work already has begun. On Friday, landscapers placed nearly an acre of new sod between the CVC’s entrance ramp and the tree-lined stepped walkway, Fontana said.

It might not seem like much, but it marks a dramatic visual change and sets the foundation for 85 new trees to be planted, replacing the 68 that were removed during the early construction phases, Fontana said.

Thirty-four tulip poplars already have been planted along the walkway that leads to the the CVC public entrance zones.

And while asphalt covered a bulk of the plaza before construction, more than 200,000 eight-inch square paving stones now dominate the space, allowing future visitors to roam the grounds rather than dodge cars that once drove on the plaza.

A number of historic Olmsted-designed fountains and lanterns also have been reassembled in their original locations.