Much-needed face lift for the White House

$300 million project: Park Service plan will expand, upgrade the nation's most famous home.

July 10, 2000

HERE'S WHAT happens each time there's a diplomatic reception at the White House: A moving company is paid to haul tables and chairs from a warehouse to the mansion, then return them to the warehouse after the event.

Why? Because there's no storage room. There's not much living space for the first family, either. Meeting rooms are scarce. Press briefings are held in cramped quarters. Hallways, driveways and even closets are crowded with furniture and equipment. Yet life goes on in the nation's most important house -- family activities, the business of running the country, a steady flow of tourists and glittering receptions for national and international VIPs.

It's long past time for an overhaul, a renovation of presidential proportions. The National Park Service has been given clearance to embark on just such a mission, but most of the changes will happen underground, so as not to disturb the historic look of the house John Adams first occupied as president 200 years ago this fall..

The plan should improve the aesthetics. Parking would be banned on the Ellipse and side streets. A subterranean White House will emerge. Two underground garages would be built. Meeting rooms, storage space, high-tech briefing room and an elaborate rec room for the presidential family would also be constructed underground.

Tunnels would link it all together. An expanded visitor center also would make use of a tunnel for the 1.2 million people who annually take the White House tour.

All this would cost $300 million. But it's a 20-year project, which means Congress' investment would be only $15 million annually. Private money would be raised to pay for some of the changes.

The White House is our national house, the center of executive government but also a symbol of this country's history and achievements. It's time for some 21st-century improvements.

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