WASHINGTON — The multi-year project to restore the U.S. Capitol Dome has
reached a milestone, as miles of aluminum and wood scaffolding completely
encase the stone and iron dome.
“With its completion, workers are now able to access the dome, freely, and can
use the equipment necessary to begin the restoration work in earnest,” says
Capitol Architect Stephen Ayers.
On a frigid fall day, Ayers summoned reporters to the roof of the U.S. Capitol
to inspect the project’s progress.
American flags flying atop the House and Senate chambers snapped sharply in
the howling wind, and bright sunshine reflected off the aluminum tubing
enveloping the Dome.
“In total, more than 75,000 pieces of scaffolding pipe were used totaling
approximately 52 miles of scaffolding,” Ayers told reporters.
The scaffolding itself is an interesting component in the first phase of the
restoration project, which carries a $60 million price tag.
“Weighing in at more than 1.2 million pounds, the scaffolding is specially
designed to distribute that weight throughout the Dome,” Ayers says.
The scaffolding, 25 levels high reaching to the base of the Statue of Freedom,
actually hangs from the Dome rather than sitting on the Capitol building roof.
The restoration work is the first of its kind in the Dome’s history; its
construction was completed in 1866. There was Dome renovation work conducted
in 1959 when the ironwork was repaired and rust inhibitor applied.
But mainly due to exposure — rain, snow, sleet and sunlight — the iron and
stone dome is riddled with more than 1,000 cracks and deficiencies.
A major part of the restoration involves removing 14 layers of paint, some of
it hazardous and lead-based, that’s as much as 150 years old. That work will
be conducted inside a movable white-colored air-tight containment compartment.
Workers assigned to removing the paint will wear special coverings and self-
contained breathing apparatuses. Once the lead paint is removed, primer will
be applied to help preserve the historic structure.
The Architect of the Capitol believes the restoration will protect the Dome
from the elements for the next 50 years. The goal is to have all the work
completed in time for the 2017 presidential inauguration.
The project remains on time and on budget, says Senator John Hoeven, (R-ND), a
member of the Appropriations Committee. Hoeven says the work is critical to
preserving the historic structure.
“This is about the freedom and liberty,” says Hoeven, “the strength that
America represents to the world.”