The US Capitol is in trouble. Well, quite a bit of trouble, but let’s talk about the dome for now. The nearly 10 million pound iron dome is almost 150 years old and hasn’t had a major restoration since 1959-60.
The Washington Business Journal is reporting that bids for a multi-year, multi-million dollar project are being solicited and that if “work is not done now, the Dome’s artwork may be damaged, the paint will continue to flake and the Architect of the Capitol will have to install safety netting to prevent injury from falling objects.”
There’s a wrinkle, of course. The solicitation warns bidders that “funding is NOT currently available for the work contemplated by this solicitation.” Not to worry, I imagine that Congress will be wrapping up their budget issues shortly and will do the responsible thing for this historic and iconic building in no time. After all, it’s not like it was a hurricane that devastated the coast line of two states; this will get quick action.
But should they? Perhaps it is time to think anew about the seat of our democracy? Maintenance on the building is costing us tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars a year.
Structurally, it is unsound. The Architect of the Capitol has had to do a lot of structural work. There have been a couple of fires there throughout the years. When you get off the tourist path, especially the new Capitol Visitors Center, it can be very dark, very broken up, and even very run down. It has obviously lost a lot of cachet from it’s heyday.
A modest proposal: maybe it’s time to gut the place and rebuild a more modern office building that can accommodate both the crowds of visitors and the thousands of Congressmen and staffers that work there. Obviously, we’ll keep the iconic structure, but do we really need to keep the rabbit warren of interior corridors and mismatched rooms? The building was cobbled together over a span of centuries, and not always coherently. A unifying renovation would create a more friendly environment, where Senators and Representatives can float from desk to desk and say hi to their neighbors.
We can even keep a few mementos, and of course the name, so that people will still identify it as the US Capitol Building. Perhaps a wall hanging or two, a few statues, and naturally the original exterior sign. They can put a plaque up to help identify it.
No, this is a dumb idea. People would see right through it, wouldn’t they?