Hill Getting Mini-Makeover in August

Posted August 5, 2009 at 6:03pm

Members will return from their August recess to a renovated House chamber, a more acoustic Cannon Caucus Room and dozens of small improvements throughout the Capitol campus.

Congress’ monthlong break always provides time for workers to give Congressional buildings mini-makeovers without worrying about disrupting votes or inconveniencing Members. Usually, they repaint walls, repair pipes, clean facades and check off a slew of small projects.

“It is a lot and we always have a lot,— said Eva Malecki, spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol. “Most of the time, we’re working during the night or on weekends.—

The recess, she added, is “great for us to now knock out our bigger projects.—

This year, the agency will help the Clerk of the House renovate the House chamber for the first time in almost a decade. Workers will install two new summary boards — which give information on legislation and votes — and a hydraulic lift to allow those with disabilities access to the rostrum.

The last comparable upgrade to the chamber was in 1999 and 2000, when workers replaced the wiring infrastructure, put down new carpets, installed smoke detectors and overhauled the chamber’s sound system.

August’s renovations, however, will probably be more apparent to Members who have spent years squinting at the chamber’s summary boards.

Originally installed in 1973, the current boards only show a short — and sometimes confusing — description of legislation and a tally of the votes. The new ones, costing about $500,000, will include more information.

The lift will also be a big change, allowing disabled Members to reach the rostrum. In September, Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.), who is in a wheelchair, will be able to preside over a session for the first time in his more than eight years in office.

The chamber will also get new microphones to alleviate the interference from Members’ BlackBerrys and cell phones, said Jeff Ventura, spokesman for House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard.

The House Recording Studio also will install cabling for a new camera, and the House floor broadcasting facilities will move from the Capitol basement to the Capitol Visitor Center. By September, floor proceedings will be recorded in high definition, Ventura said.

Other changes around the Capitol and Congressional buildings will be less obvious.

Workers will repair some concrete flooring in the parking garage of the Rayburn House Office Building, forcing some detours. They will replace a skylight in the Capitol that was damaged during preparations for the inauguration. The Cannon Tunnel will also get repairs for small leaks (but it will remain open).

Workers will also be taking on projects throughout the Capitol campus: replacing granite pavers at the CVC, reinstalling a historic trolley stop and restoring the Bartholdi Fountain.

The CAO’s office will also use the time to facilitate the painting and renovation of more than 40 offices, Ventura said.

Many committees and Members opt to wait until August — when fewer staffers are on the Hill — to do the work, Ventura said.

“It’s more convenient for them, so we always give them the option,— he said.

Cafeteria hours in both the House and Senate will also be shorter during August, and the cafeteria in the Longworth House Office Building will be closed so workers can replace a drainage pipe.

In the House, the Rayburn Cafe, Cannon Cafe and Ford Cafe will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Ford Carryout will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Capitol Market from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; the Creamery from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Goodies from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In the Senate, the Dirksen Cafe will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. American Grill and the Hart Sundry will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Cups and Company’s hours will be 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The shortened House hours began this week, while the Senate will begin the new schedule next week. Normal hours will resume when the House and Senate go back into session after Labor Day.