Painters, repair crews to begin monumentally challenging task

November 26, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- In 1792, President George Washington and his secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, were in Philadelphia, pondering the design of the U.S. Capitol.

Determined to send a message that the fledgling democracy commanded respect, Washington decided upon a dome. "It gives beauty and grandeur," he wrote.

Now, the world's most visible symbol of democracy is getting a face lift, a $30 million repair job that will seal cracks and other problems in the 135-year-old, cast-iron dome.

Beginning in January and continuing over the next four years, workers will strip away the old lead-based paint -- at least 12 coats dating to 1863 -- in favor of a new, rust-free coating. The new coat will have to be applied before the dome starts to rust.

They also will improve the wiring, drainage and communications equipment that snake through the forest of trusses, girders and catwalks inside the dome.

The contractors also inspect each piece of cast iron for damage. The second, more costly phase will involve the repairs.

Pub Date: 11/26/98

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