CVC on Schedule, but Punchlist Numbers 14,000 Items

Posted February 7, 2008 at 1:24pm

Fire- and life-safety testing at the Capitol Visitor Center remains the biggest potential threat to the facility’s scheduled November opening, officials overseeing the project told appropriators on Thursday.

But those officials agreed that the CVC still should open on time, as the problems discovered during the highly complicated testing process have been addressed quickly.

“The margins are very close,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch. “We really do not have a lot of wiggle room.”

She later added: “I never thought fire alarm testing would make my heart pound at night, but it does.”

The testing process is within a week of being on schedule, said Terry Dorn, who is monitoring the CVC project as director of physical infrastructure issues for the Government Accountability Office.

Some experts have suggested that the testing process could move more quickly. The General Services Administration and other consultants working on the CVC project recently recommended that the Architect of the Capitol could cut the time needed by reducing the number of tests on its smoke detectors and how many different test sequences are run, officials said.

But both the AOC fire marshal and the Office of Compliance have recommended that the tests continue as planned, acting Architect Stephen Ayers said, adding that AOC officials will continue on course for the time being.

“I think we are doing the right thing,” he said.

Construction at the facility is about 99 percent finished, Dorn said. But the 1 percent of remaining work has presented a challenge to AOC officials in the past several weeks.

For example, the work schedule in the CVC’s East Front slipped by four weeks after the AOC discovered that additional sprinkler heads were needed. In the exhibit gallery, work was delayed by three weeks after the AOC did not receive replacement pieces for the room’s glass floor on time.

But perhaps the biggest challenge is the raft of punchlist items that need to be addressed. About 14,000 items are on that list, Dorn said, meaning that AOC officials would have to tackle about 55 items a day to complete the list before the CVC opening.

And that’s only if no new items are added.

“Even at this late in the project, 99 percent complete, much remains to be done,” Dorn said.

Many punchlist items are small, such as the need to touch up paint, Ayers noted. Those kinds of items can be tackled after the CVC opens, said Bernie Ungar, the CVC’s project executive.

“We probably won’t be done by November,” Ungar said of the punchlist. “But we certainly will have the major items that need to be done done well before then.”

With construction officials focused on finishing the project on time, others involved in CVC planning are tackling how the facility will run once it opens. Figuring out how staff-led tours will operate remains one of the bigger projects for Terrie Rouse, the CVC’s chief executive officer for visitor services.

The latest idea calls for the creation of the Congressional Historical Interpretive Training Program, a 12-hour workshop that would teach staffers the historic elements of the Capitol and CVC exhibits while also training them on safety issues.

The training program would ensure that staffers give accurate information about the Capitol’s architecture, legislative history and historical features, Rouse said.

“Congressional staff will be properly equipped to lead constituent tours while still providing the personal touch,” Rouse said.

The future of staff-led tours has dominated recent CVC discussions. Original plans called for the tours to be scrapped in favor of having all tours led by the Capitol Guide Service, with Congressional staffers coming along if requested.

But hundreds of Members protested, arguing that staff tours offer their constituents a personal connection to their Senator or Representative when they visit the Capitol.

Committee members seemed pleased that Rouse is working to maintain staff-led tours, although Wasserman Schultz said 12 hours “seems a little excessive” for training.

Members appeared more concerned about Rouse’s plans for the CVC Web site. Current designs would let visitors book a Capitol tour directly through the CVC or a staff tour by directing them to their Member’s Web site, Rouse said.

Wasserman Schultz and others on the panel said the Web site also should provide a way for visitors to look up their Representative or Senators. Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) said CVC officials also must develop a plan for helping visitors contact Member offices on the telephone rather than online.

“There has to be clear lines of understanding here, or you’re going to have a huge mess on your hands,” LaHood said.

Thursday’s CVC hearing was the first for ranking member Tom Latham (R-Iowa), who joined the panel after former ranking member Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) moved over to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies.

Latham questions for the panel focused on the cost of the CVC, and the Iowa Congressman appeared concerned that if Congress passes a continuing resolution to fund the legislative branch this year — something he said is possible in the current political climate — the first year of the CVC could be disastrous.

Ayers and Rouse agreed. If a continuing resolution is passed, the AOC likely will not be able to meet its monthly CVC payroll requirements, Ayers said.

“We won’t be at our best,” Rouse said.

The Capitol Police, House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms and other offices involved in the CVC also will be impacted, Ayers noted. But Wasserman Schultz maintained the CVC will not face a first-year crisis.

“I feel quite certain we will make sure the needs are met,” she said.