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Capitol dome restoration to be completed for 2017 inauguration

Posted at 9:48 PM, Nov 19, 2014

Drilling, banging, buzzing – the Capitol’s majestic presence has been hidden beneath towers of scaffolding pipes as part of the 150-year-old dome’s restoration.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said at a press conference Tuesday that $60 million will be added to the budget to make sure the project is completed by the next presidential inauguration.

“Just like this great nation, it’s here for the long term,” Hoeven said. “This isn’t just about America – this is about the freedom and liberty, the strength that America represents to the world.”

It has been 50 years since the last restoration, and Stephen T. Ayers, 11th architect of the Capitol, said it will be at least another 50 years before the dome needs another touchup.

“With today’s technology, paint coatings and repair techniques, we hope to get 75 to 100 years,” Ayers said.

Over the years, the dome – which is 288 feet tall – has developed more than 1,300 cracks and the paint has been peeling off. Much of the restoration will involve repairing the cracks.

To preserve the cast iron used in the dome, Ayers said tools and techniques were specifically developed for the restoration, including developing a magnetic particle test to identify cracks. Workers will blast the lead-based paint off the structure, then vacuum up the residue. They will coat the cast iron with “dome white” primer paint.

Because workers will be exposed to lead, they will wear special suits that will allow them to breathe and remove the paint safely.

There are 25 levels of scaffolding pipe that reach to the base of the Statue of Freedom, supporting and distributing the weight of the dome. The statue was restored recently and isn’t part of this project.

The ornaments along the dome will also be recast and reinstalled, or replaced if they can’t be repaired.

Ayers said the scaffolding was the major part of the work, and now that it has been completed, the project can move on.

“We’ve been removing a lot of the ornaments in advance of the paint removal, enclosures are being erected right now, and we’re getting ready to start painting and removing the lead-based paint shortly,” he said.

Hoeven said that this project is important to him and it should be important to every American.

“The dome is a symbol, not just for our country, but a symbol of freedom and liberty for the world.”

Reach reporter Lorain Watters at or 202-408-1494. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter