Cannon office building due for major overhaul

The Cannon House Office Building is in for a major overhaul, but there is concern that a remodeling project of such unprecedented scope will not be completed on time, on budget and, most importantly, according to code.

The Architect of the Capitol (AoC) awarded two construction companies a contract worth more than $550 million to renovate the building, according to federal records.

“If history is any indication, it won’t happen on time or on budget," said a House aide unable to speak on the record.

The contract, awarded on Oct. 31 to a partnership between Maryland-based Clark Construction and Michigan-based Christman Construction, is scheduled to last through 2025, with the next two years devoted solely to planning, according to the pre-solicitation contract posted on the General Services Administration (GSA) website.

The final contract is not yet public, but an AoC source close to the project, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said that the dates and figures have not changed.

Clauses in the pre-solicitation contract prohibit the companies from discussing details publicly, so a Clark Construction spokesman could only confirm the award.

Eva Malecki, the AoC's spokeswoman, said in an email that “the first task these contractors will undertake is to review and validate the project’s 'Program of Requirements and Design.’ ”

Following the initial two-year planning and “preconstruction” stage, the work will be broken up into six parts: the Cannon basement "infrastructure"; four two-year portions for each quarter of the Cannon building, from the basement to the fifth floor; and a "closeout" period. The project would be the first total renovation of its kind, said the AoC source.

In addition to the $550 million price tag, bonuses may be offered at the completion of each period if the AoC finds the companies are "producing innovative solutions to issues that threaten schedule, budget, performance and satisfaction of the client," according to the pre-solicitation document.

Proposed "incentive" bonuses to the companies range from $750,000 to $2.5 million, not including an "approximate" $500,000 bonus to both construction managers and the "architect/engineer" for completing the planning stage by 2015, according to the pre-solicitation. If each bonus were awarded as stated, it would add more than $8 million to the overall project.

Malecki said the Cannon building needs the makeover and "is showing its age" at 105 years old.

"Major building systems such as heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, as well as mechanical equipment, and plumbing, electrical, life-safety and fire protection systems are deteriorating despite our best efforts to maintain them over the past several years. In addition, building components such as windows, doors, lighting and insulation need to be upgraded," she said in an email. 

The Office of Compliance, an independent agency that enforces workplace safety and health laws in the Capitol, issued a report in May that found more than 340 health and safety hazards in the 800,000-square-foot Cannon building, half of which involve electrical problems and hazards.

Malecki said the "project will be compliant with modern life-safety codes and address [Americans With Disabilities Act] and [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] requirements such as accessibility, egress routes, fire suppression systems, smoke control systems, fire alarms and smoke detectors." 

The Cannon building is among several congressional office buildings that lack adequate preparation for safely operating and evacuating in the event of a fire or biological attack.

The AoC contact said the project would likely follow the budget and timeline directives.

Still, there is skepticism surrounding those claims. The House aide, familiar with the construction of the Capitol Visitor Center (CVC), used it as an example of the potential pitfalls.

The CVC was completed years later than planned and more than $350 million over budget. The ballooning costs and delays occurred due in part to changes to fire and safety elements that needed to be made after construction had begun.

Construction “always takes longer and becomes more expensive than planned,” the aide said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the kitchen in your condo or a historic congressional building.”

Even smaller projects have run into problems. Recent construction on outside areas of the House and Senate office buildings still contain numerous safety hazards for those with disabilities, according to an Office of Compliance report. The areas around the Cannon House Office Building entrances have 46 total “pathway barriers,” 21 of which are labeled by the agency as being a "severe safety consideration." Nine block access altogether.

Given the scope and size of the project, there is no precedent for what to do with members housed in Cannon offices during the construction. The AoC source said that members would be relocated to the Longworth House Office Building, while staffers would have temporary offices in “Federal Building 8,” which is located at 200 C St. SW, about a half-mile from the House office buildings.

Members in the building have not received notices yet because the AoC does not know “who will be there at the time. [Construction] is an election cycle away,” said the AoC source.

The pre-solicitation document mentions that each new construction period "generally begins with a congressional election followed by the members moving amongst offices while design is completed, followed by 18 months of construction until the next election.”

The AoC has a highly scrutinized $600 million annual budget to maintain the 17.4 million square feet of buildings and 620 acres of land on Capitol Hill. The AoC inspector general and House Administration Committee, which manages accounting matters and other issues for the House, did not respond to a request for comment.