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Long-awaited renovations to the Supreme Court began Tuesday with a formal groundbreaking attended by several justices.

On hand for the ceremony were Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Associate Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy.

This is the first time upgrades are being made to the building since its completion in 1935.

“Virtually all of the building systems have far exceeded their reasonable life expectancy and require an aggressive daily maintenance schedule to continue operating,” Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman stated in testimony submitted for an early-April Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing.

Although the court falls under the judicial branch’s jurisdiction, the Architect’s office is responsible for the structural and mechanical care of the Supreme Court building and grounds.

The two-part modernization project, estimated to cost $122 million, is scheduled for completion in 2008.

The first phase of the project will be to construct a two-story, underground annex along Maryland Avenue Northeast. The annex will house the court’s law-enforcement agency and new mechanical equipment.

The Architect’s office has not yet awarded a contract for the project but expects construction to begin this summer. The annex is scheduled for completion in July 2004, but the interior of that addition would actually be finished in the project’s second phase.

The second and larger portion of the modernization program will include renovations to the building’s five floors, beginning in summer 2004. The renovations will include fire safety and suppression systems, mechanical and electrical systems, and improvements to security.

“Although the building incorporated the latest in fire resistant technology when it was built, current regulations and technological advancements to modern life safety systems — including fire detection and suppression systems — require modernization,” Hantman said in his testimony.

More than 1 million visitors pass through the Supreme Court annually, and the building houses about 400 employees.

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