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CVC Focus Turns to Plaza

With the 2005 presidential inauguration only 86 days away, construction crews at the Capitol Visitor Center have turned their attention to the East Front plaza, where they are focused on cosmetic preparations for the January ceremony.

Over the weekend, construction crews completed the final section of the 588,000-square-foot subterranean center’s roof deck, which also serves as the East Front plaza.

Workers also removed one of two large cranes from the construction site, and a project spokesman said the remaining crane, located on the south side of the plaza near the House chamber, will be taken down in December.

“Slowly but surely the Capitol skyline is returning to normal,” CVC spokesman Tom Fontana said Monday afternoon.

Earlier this year, Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman assured lawmakers that the center’s structural components and roof deck would be completed in time for the Jan. 20 ceremony.

Although a far cry from plans that once called for the CVC to open to the public in time for the inauguration — the $421 million center is now slated to open in the summer of 2006 — Hantman has vowed that the construction site will be sufficiently able to handle a presidential procession, including helicopter landings.

“In a way, I’m glad we have that milestone because it has kept pressure on the contractor and on the team to get it completed,” Fontana said of the inauguration.

During a tour of the construction site Friday, Fontana said that “key elements” of the center — including paving the section of the East Front nearest the Capitol with granite stones and the installation of sod in that area — are on schedule for a November completion.

But because only a portion of the East Front will be completed, a temporary construction fence will be erected across the plaza. The enclosure will resemble fencing that now surrounds the perimeter of the construction site and will be removed following the inauguration.

“The eastern half of the site will be a construction zone,” Fontana acknowledged.

In addition, some provisional measures will still be in place in sections of the “completed” East Front, such as temporary covers for two large skylights.

During construction of the center, the skylights are used as entrances to deliver materials to the three floors located below ground level.

Despite the limited time frame, Fontana expressed confidence that the center will be sufficiently completed for inaugural activities.

Gesturing to the site on a recent busy weekday afternoon, he noted: “We could clean this up in just a few days.”

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