CVC Marks One-Year Anniversary

Posted December 2, 2009 at 9:53am

Congressional officials are celebrating the one-year anniversary of the opening of the Capitol Visitor Center on Wednesday, kicking off a series of free lectures on Congress and the Capitol throughout December.Terrie Rouse, the CVC’s chief executive officer for visitor services, extolled the underground building’s first year, boasting that the number of visitors to the Capitol has doubled since the CVC opened. The lectures, she said, will be at noon on Wednesdays and feature experts from the National Archives and the Library of Congress.“One year ago today, the Capitol Visitor Center opened to the public, and we have been going strong ever since,— she said. “We are extremely proud of our exemplary staff, who have worked diligently since we opened not only to enrich the experience of the millions of people who’ve come to see the Capitol but also to make their visit more comfortable and convenient.—Indeed, Members have commended its design and usefulness. But during its construction the CVC was constantly over budget and behind schedule. With an original price tag of about $265 million, its budget swelled to $621 million and opened four years late. A few problems have cropped up within its first year. Among them: a major leak in June because of a faulty joint in the building’s storm drain and the replacement of hundreds of pavers that were battered from poor installation and design.Members also complained for months that CVC officials were controlling staff-led tours, curtailing a popular constituent service by requiring long training courses and new tour schedules. The dispute led Congress to insert language in the recent legislative branch spending bill prohibiting funds from being used to restrict Member-led tours.Getting tourists to the CVC has also become a problem. The Capitol Police force tour buses to drop passengers on the Capitol’s West Front, which is a half-mile, uphill walk to the CVC’s entrance on the East Front. So far, CVC officials have only a few specially designed golf carts to get the elderly and handicapped to the entrance, and tour bus companies have complained that they are insufficient and unreliable. Most have stopped taking veterans to the Capitol because, they claimed, the groups of senior citizens were forced to struggle to the CVC entrance on walkers and in wheelchairs.