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Architect Defends Higher CVC Estimates

Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman defended overall costs for construction of the Capitol Visitor Center during a Senate Rules and Administration oversight hearing Wednesday.

Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and ranking member Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) raised concerns about the project’s budget.

“I hear complaints that this project is growing in cost and likely to be behind schedule,” Lott said of the 580,000-square-foot structure estimated to cost $373.5 million.

Hantman acknowledged that companies seeking a construction contract for the visitor center’s second phase — which includes mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, completion of the East Front Plaza and buildout of the interior spaces — submitted proposals 10 percent to 15 percent above original estimates for the phase.

CVC officials have previously said pricing proposals for the second sequence would be around $120 million.

Hantman defended the additional costs, noting the figures are “considered to be within an acceptable and reasonable range” according to General Services Administration and Defense Department standards.

He attributed the increase to “market conditions,” noting numerous construction projects elsewhere in the District of Columbia.

“There are cranes all over the city,” Hantman said. He later added that the project’s strict timeframe — the East Front Plaza must be substantially completed in time for 2005 inauguration activities — and the need for numerous stone masons may also be a contributing factor.

CVC officials have not released the total cost proposed by contractors competing for the second phase because the procurement process is still under way. Hantman said the contract should be awarded in April.

Initially estimated to cost $265 million, the CVC’s budget has grown to $373.5 million, with the addition of a $38.5 million appropriation for security enhancements and an additional $70 million for the completion of “shell” space allocated for the House and Senate on each side of the visitor center. Both supplemental appropriations corresponded to a change in scope, rather than additional funds for original plans.

On top of the $100 million price tag for the first phase of construction — which included excavation, construction of the exterior walls and a new service tunnel — Hantman said some of the unobligated funds were needed for unforeseen obstacles. Those included inaccurately documented utility lines, which required contractors to reroute a 30-inch water main.

During the hearing, Hantman also reviewed the Architect’s $514 million budget proposal for fiscal 2004.

The request, an increase over the fiscal 2003 $392 million budget, includes $26.5 million to continue the Capitol Building Master Plan; $12.6 million to assess the Library of Congress buildings and grounds and to design a new Library facility in Ft. Meade, Md.; and a host of other projects. Payroll costs account for $133 million.

Secretary of the Senate Emily Reynolds also testified before the committee.

Reynolds discussed her office’s continuity of operations preparations and said a mock session of the Senate will be held later this year. A similar exercise was conducted last summer to test how smoothly the Sergeant-at-Arms and Secretary of the Senate offices could move floor operations to alternate facilities.

“The operation of the Senate chamber is first and foremost in our minds,” Reynolds said.

Additionally, she reviewed plans for improving both the Senate’s financial management information system and the legislative information system.

She also discussed technology upgrades in the Office of Captioning Services, the Senate Gift Shop and the Stationery Room.