Cannon renovation to displace lawmakers in giant ‘shell game’

A major renovation of the aging Cannon office building will displace members and their staff for up to a year in what the Architect of the Capitol describes as a giant “shell game.”

“The list of problems and issues and safety concerns and code violations in the [Cannon] building just goes on and on, so it’s time for a comprehensive renovation,” Stephen Ayers, Architect of the Capitol, told The Hill Tuesday.

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Currently in the early planning stages, the project is expected to cost $750 million and will also require renovations in the nearby Longworth and Rayburn office buildings, since new member suites will be needed to house the lawmakers forced out of Cannon.

Ayers said the Cannon building dates to 1908 and has never had a major renovation. Problems include an original roof that requires significant maintenance, loose external stones that pose a safety risk, leaking rainwater drainage systems, mold and mechanical systems that are up to 40 years past their expiration dates.

The multi-year project would see House support staff and potentially committee staff moved to the Food and Drug Administration building near Rayburn. Three-room member suites would then be created in now-vacant areas of Longworth and Rayburn. 

The Cannon building would be renovated one wing at a time, with members and their staff moved to a nearby building for up to one year.

The planning stage of the renovation project is expected to last another year, Ayers said, with a design stage slated to take an additional two years. Congressional staff could begin seeing moves starting as early as 2016, and pre- to post-construction activities could take up to seven years total.

Asked if lawmakers would have any say in where they would be relocated, Ayers said, “We’re going to be more successful if we have a collaborative process with the congressional leadership and the members themselves.”

It won’t be all downside for the displaced lawmakers, however. Many members have long complained about the lack of ability to control temperature and humidity in Cannon, an issue that will be addressed during construction.

A plan is also in place to raise the walls around the desk spaces of lawmakers’ chiefs of staff to allow for greater privacy in discussing sensitive topics.

According to Ayers, the $750 million in funding for the renovation — a figure that will not be locked in until the end of the design phase — would come from the legislative branch portion of an appropriations bill.

Asked if he had received any pushback on the planned undertaking, Ayers said it’s “a pretty easy pitch for us because everyone recognizes what condition the Cannon building is in.”

"Unfortunately there’s really no choice," he added. “There is not a vacant building where we can take all the people from the Cannon building and move them somewhere else; we just don’t have that luxury.”