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U.S. Capitol Dome Restoration Project Frequently Asked Questions

The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) is currently restoring the Dome of the U.S. Capitol Building, one of America's great symbols of freedom. Frequently asked questions about this project are available below.

Why is the Capitol Dome under restoration?

Because the Capitol Dome is predominately made of cast iron, exposure to rain, snow, sleet and sun causes damage to its exterior. Water infiltrates through pin holes in the Statue of Freedom, and through cracks and open joints throughout the exterior shell including: the tholos balustrade, the base of the cupola and the boilerplate balcony level. Leaks in the interstitial space promote the rusting of the ironwork and the failure of the protective paint coatings.

A cross section diagram of the Capitol Dome

Additionally, decorative elements that give the Capitol Dome its unique character are rusting, and in some cases falling from the structure. If these repairs are not made, the artwork in the Rotunda, including the Apotheosis of Washington and the Frieze of American History, are at great risk of damage due to water leaks.

What is the purpose of the project?

This project is a critical step for stopping the current level of deterioration in the Dome's cast iron as well as ensuring the protection of the interior of the Dome and Rotunda. The last significant exterior renovation of the Dome was performed in 1959-60 when it was stripped of its paint so the ironwork could be repaired and primed with a rust inhibitor. As part of its comprehensive project planning process, the Architect of the Capitol is undertaking a similar renovation. The restoration project includes removal of old paint, repairs to the cast iron and repainting.

Why is this project happening now?

Postponing the restoration would perpetuate the deterioration of the Dome. The flaking and peeling of paint will substantially increase resulting in an unsightly appearance. In 2010, it was noted that items identified in a 2001 study had further deteriorated, resulting in repairs that are more complex and costly. As conditions continue to deteriorate, the safety of visitors to the Capitol is threatened by falling objects. Installation of safety netting to the Capitol Rotunda is required to protect visitors during the restoration process.

How can we ensure the project delivers good value to the taxpayer?

The Dome Restoration Project's authorized budget for this phase of the project is $59.55 million. This includes the recent award for construction, as well as contingency costs and project support.

The Architect of the Capitol is committed to maximizing taxpayer value. Following a full and open competitive bidding process, a contractor was selected to perform the project while under close oversight by the AOC to ensure the project remains on time and on budget and minimizes disruption to the work of Congress. Additionally, the AOC is incorporating lessons learned from the work on the Dome Skirt that was completed in 2012 on time and on budget.

What are the benefits of the project?

The project will improve the quality of the Capitol Dome and provide protection from the elements for the next 50 years to preserve one of the nation's most iconic structures. There is only one Capitol Dome, and the Architect of the Capitol is committed to preserving it for generations to come.

What will the Capitol look like during construction?

Rendering of Scaffolding - day

Rendering of scaffold system.

The project requires the installation of a scaffold system surrounding the entire Dome from the base of the Statue of Freedom down to the Dome Skirt. At night the scaffolding will be lit as work continues.

Safety netting in Rotunda that was used in 1999.

Safety netting in the Rotunda.

At the interior of the Rotunda, a white catenary system in the shape of a doughnut will be installed above the Frieze of American History to protect the public. The doughnut configuration allows the Apotheosis to be seen during the restoration process.

What are the impacts of this project on visitors and staff?

The majority of the work will be done at night and on weekends to ensure minimal disruption to Congressional business, events and public tours. However, Dome tours will not be offered while the project is underway. 

What's the sequence of work for the project?

Infographic showing What it takes to restore the Dome

In November 2013, the Architect of the Capitol awarded the contract to support the Dome restoration and provided notice to the contractor to begin work. Following this notice, the AOC works with the contractor to finalize project timelines and scaffold designs. Once the timeline plan is complete, the contractor conducts on-site surveys, installs fencing and begins protecting invaluable artwork and statuary in the Capitol Rotunda.

Next, once equipment and materials for the restoration work arrive on Capitol Grounds, vertical scaffold towers allowing workers to reach the Dome are installed on the West Front, during this time a protective netting system is installed in the Capitol Rotunda. Installation of scaffolding on the outside the of the Dome follows, beginning at the boiler plate (base) and peristyle levels (lower columns) of the Dome, and over time reaching the base of the Statue of Freedom.

As scaffolding is completed work begins and includes paint abatement, application of primer coat, cast iron restoration, and window repair and replacement. Once these tasks are complete from the boiler plate to the base of Statue of Freedom, work moves from top-to-bottom and includes application of cast iron filler where needed, application of mid and top coat paint, installation of fall protection and bird deterrent systems. As work is completed scaffolding will be removed.

When will this project be completed?

Scaffolding on the Dome was removed at the lantern level in December 2015 and removal will gradually continue as exterior work is completed, but the stair tower and bridge will remain in place until late 2016 to provide access to the interior and Rotunda phases of the project. 

Exterior work for the Dome Restoration project includes repairing cracks and repainting the Capitol Dome. The focus of the interior Rotunda restoration work will be to remove hazardous materials (such as lead paint), restore ironwork, upgrade electrical and mechanical systems, install new lighting and repaint it to historically appropriate colors.

The entire project (exterior and interior) will be complete and all scaffolding will be removed prior to the Presidential Inauguration in January 2017.