Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

US Capitol, 'our symbol of democracy,' is getting a facelift

A donut of netting under the dome protects pedestrians below.
A donut of netting under the dome protects pedestrians below.
Kitty Felde/KPCC

Spring is often the time when homeowners tackle repairs they've been putting off for a while. This week, the federal government finally got around to tackling a really big job: repairing more than a thousand cracks in the century-and-a-half old Capitol dome.

Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers says his office has "carefully patched and caulked and painted" various cracks over the years, but after more than a thousand cracks, a full-scale repair was necessary. The last time the Capitol got a makeover, Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House. Ayers calls the U.S. Capitol "our symbol of democracy" and says, as "stewards of this national treasure," it was time for a major repair job.

The first step was to prepare the much-used public space underneath the Capitol dome. A huge donut-shaped net has been suspended from the ceiling to catch construction debris. The curved walls down below have been covered with scaffolding and the tile floor is covered with plywood.

Later, scaffolding will encase the outside of the dome, built of nine million pounds of cast iron, topped with nearly a dozen coats of lead-based paint. LED lights will be attached to the exterior scaffolding, adding visual interest to the construction at night.

Most of the work will be done at night and on weekends. Cracks will be sealed and broken windows will be resealed with epoxy. The price tag is nearly $60 million, included in last year's budget deal.

The area beneath the dome will remain open to tourists and lawmakers during the repair period. The work is expected to be completed by the next presidential inauguration in January of 2017.





cast iron plates that form the outer shell of the dome