WASHINGTON — The Washington Monument will be closed until September, before another monthslong closure in the wake of persistent elevator problems, the National Park Service said Wednesday.
The monument will remain closed for immediate elevator repairs and inspections through at least mid-September. After that, the park service will develop a plan and hire for a modernization project that could take eight or nine months, the park service said at a Wednesday news conference.
“We are finding ourselves at the end of the life of this system. We know we have to modernize the system,” said Superintendent of National Mall and Memorial Parks Gay Vietzke.
The monument has a single elevator, which aims to run 364 days of the year to transport the public to the top. Elevators in similar systems typically have a life of 20-25 years, Vietzke said. The Washington Monument’s elevator was last modernized in the late 90s, but the daily wear and tear on a single elevator have contributed to a progressed decline, Vietzke said.
After a flurry of closures at the monument because of elevator problems, the National Park Service last week announced it would conduct a “top-to-bottom” inspection of the elevator, which would result in a 10-day closure.
The work from the 10-day closure is taking longer than planned and is being extended until September. The prolongation will give the park service time to gather all the information it can to “comprehensively modernize the entire system,” Vietzke said.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., called the elevator repairs an “emergency situation” that will prohibit people from visiting its top for much of the tourist season.
“I regret that NPS believes that the full modernization would shut down the Monument itself for as much as nine months, and I am requesting that the closure of the Monument for the purpose of repairs be completed before next year’s tourist season begins,” she said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
Norton said she has been “assured that NPS has the necessary funds from its partners and in its budget” for the repairs. Still, she said Congress shares some of the blame when it comes to funding constraints. National Park Service monies have been used for repairs, Norton said, but didn’t say how much.
“I’m greatly frustrated. I blame part of this and I think Congress must take responsibility for part of this. It seems to me that money should have been made available,” Norton said during the news conference.
The monument was closed for nearly three years and underwent extensive repairs following the 2011 earthquake that rocked the D.C. region. Since the monument reopened to the public in May 2014, officials have closed it on 24 separate occasions, the National Park Service said last week.
Most recently, the monument closed last Sunday after the elevator failed twice in 12 hours, including one incident where three employees were trapped inside the elevator.