Capitol dome to get scaffolding in spring

Scaffolding will begin to cover the Capitol dome this spring when the $60 million restoration project begins, Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers announced Thursday.

The restoration project was announced in October but Ayers offered additional details in a briefing.

Workers will construct a work area on the roof of the West front below the dome. Once the scaffolding is built up, workers will remove lead paint, solder together broken pieces of the cast-iron dome, and apply new paint and protective coating.

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From below, the dome looks as majestic as ever, but there are cracks in the exterior skin, cast iron ornaments that are in danger of falling off and leaks causing water damage inside the rotunda.
 
"With nearly 1,300 cracks and the pace of cracking and deterioration accelerating, we thought it was important now after 50 years to intervene and do some preservation work on the dome," Ayers said at a press conference.

The last restoration of the dome, originally completed in 1866 and famously built as the Civil War raged, was in 1960.

For the roughly two years scheduled for the project, the dome will be covered in scaffolding all around and lit up at night, much as the Washington Monument was during its restoration this year. Much of the interior of the rotunda will also be obscured with a protective canopy.

Ayers acknowledged having the dome covered "is not going to be great."

But he said the focus is on the work to be done.

"We’re not going to do anything too artistic," he said. "We thought it was better to spend the money more wisely on repairing the specific cracks."

Though standing in the Capitol Visitor Center, which opened in 2008 three years behind schedule and at more than twice the original price tag, Ayers expressed confidence the project would be on time and on budget.

The project is scheduled to be completed in two years and is expected to cost $59.55 million. Ayers said work on the base of the dome completed this year functions as a pilot project to ensure the main project goes smoothly.

Asked if he could guarantee it will be on budget, he stopped short, saying, "'Guarantee,' that’s a big word. We’re pretty confident, I’lll give you that."

Just getting Congress to appropriate the funds for the project, which Ayers said are "in hand," was a multi-year battle. In 2012, architectural and engineering groups wrote to congressional leaders after the Architect of the Capitol's budget was cut by 10 percent, arguing the cuts could lead to "deterioration of the Capitol dome and its supporting structures."

Ayers said, once the work is over, the dome will look the same as it does now.