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The Capitol Visitors' Center: An Overview

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Publication Date: July 2003

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL31121

Topic: Culture and religion (Museums, memorials, and monuments)


On June 20, 2000, congressional leaders of both parties gathered to participate in a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony for the Capitol Visitors' Center (CVC). Now being constructed under the East Front Plaza, the center has been designed to enhance the security, educational experience, and comfort of those visiting the U.S. Capitol when it is completed in 2005. The decision to build a subterranean facility largely invisible from an exterior perspective was made so the structure would not compete with, or detract from, the appearance and historical architectural integrity of the Capitol. The project's designers sought to integrate the new structure with the landscape of the East Capitol Grounds and ultimately recreate the park-like setting intended by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. in his historic 1874 design for the site.

The cost of the center, the most extensive addition to the Capitol since the Civil War, and the largest in the structure's 202-year history, is estimated at between $380 million and $395 million. Altogether $308.5 million in appropriated funds are available for project. An additional $65 million has been raised for construction of the center through private donations and the sale of commemorative coins.

In March 1999, the Architect of the Capitol was authorized $2.8 million to revalidate a 1995 design study of the project. To simplify the approval process for the design and construction phases, Congress transferred that authority to the Capitol Preservation Commission in September 1999. Three months later, a revised conceptional design for the center was approved by the commission. A design and engineering obligation plan was approved by the House and Senate legislative appropriations subcommittees in November 1999 and January 2000, respectively.

On January 31, 2000, design development work for the center was begun, and in mid-October 2000, the Capitol Preservation Commission approved the final design plan for the center and authorized the Architect of the Capitol to prepare final construction documentation. Since that time, a construction management firm has been hired to supervise the project, an $8 million dollar contract has been awarded to relocate utility lines, and a $99,877,000 contact has been awarded for Sequence 1 (foundation/structural work) and a $144.2 million contract has been awarded for Sequence 2 (the electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and finishing work) of the actual construction of the center.

Also, a firm was retained to oversee the development of the CVC exhibition gallery; a tree maintenance contractor was hired to help assure the protection of trees on the East Capitol grounds; historic preservation workmen have temporarily removed historic Olmsted landscape features from the grounds for their safeguard; and temporary visitor screening facilities and media sites were constructed.

It is anticipated that the construction of the center will be close enough to completion by January 2005 to accommodate the basic activities of the next presidential inauguration. Recently, considerable concern has been expressed over the estimated cost for the center, which continues to increase.