Tour of the Capitol Visitors Center – Under Construction

I had heard rumors that the construction going on around the Capitol was actually to protect our Congresspersons with ground-to-air missiles, incase terrorists come to attack. So I went with the National Capitol chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers on a tour of the construction site for the Capitol Visitors Center.

ASCE tour group

On the way in, we all shook hands with the former Architect of the Capitol, Alan Hantman, who retired in February. “I was six feet tall and had hair before this project began,” quipped Hantman.

Tour guide, Tom Fantana, shakes hands with Alan Hantman.

The Visitors Center was built with thirty-five million dollars worth of American stone, mostly granite, marble, and sandstone, to match the old building. Over fifty thousand truckloads of soil were removed from the site. The federal government wasn’t too concerned about what the contractors did with the soil, as long as they didn’t sell it on Ebay. Most of it ended up under the Springfield (Virginia) interchange.

Walls of granite from Culpeper, Virginia

The new Capitol Visitors Center will house display cases of important documents and kiosks with interactive web sites for citizens to look up their Congresspersons to find out what legislation they are working on. There will also be videos and other interactive demonstrations that visitors can learn from. “It will give a better sense of how our democracy works,” says Fontana. The idea is to reach out to the public beyond what the current statues and other artwork can show.

Future site of important documents

The video auditoriums were designed to be flexible. Incase Congress decides to use the auditoriums for other purposes, such as meeting rooms where Congress will vote, some walls can be moved, the electrical outlets were placed in the floor, the seats can be removed, and the room was wired for internet, phone, and voting mechanisms.

As far as I could tell, there were no missiles installed, but there were blast-proof doors. They also installed a chem-bio contaminant detection system. In response to the anthrax scare, the air intake vents were situated on the roof of the Capitol, instead of near the ground. Incase of attack, the air handling units will purge the contaminated areas of poisoned air. Showers with detergent will flush the toxic substance off of anyone in the building and the wastewater will be contained in a 15,000-gallon tank.

And no government building would be complete without the item that can’t be used for its intended purpose.

Don’t drink the water

This article will appear in the next newsletter for the National Capital Section of ASCE.

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