January 26, 2015

Behind the Scenes: Cannon House Office Building Renewal

  • By: Geoff Montes
The Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C. is undergoing a ten-year restoration.

Preservation was recently invited by the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) to the Cannon Renewal Project press briefing to see the current condition of the oldest Congressional office and hear more about the ten-year plan underway to restore and preserve it.  On hand to discuss the renewal project were Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers; Superintendent of House Office Buildings William Weidemeyer; and Historian of the U.S. House of Representatives Matthew A. Wasniewski.

Built in 1908, the Beaux-Arts style Cannon House Office Building (known on Capitol Hill by its acronym, "CHOB" or simply “Cannon”) was designed by prominent New York-based architecture firm Carrère and Hastings. Located just one block south of the U.S. Capitol, Cannon is home to the offices of 142 U.S. Representatives across five floors, and includes four committee hearing rooms, the historic Caucus Room, and the Rotunda.

The first of five construction phases began in late December 2014.

The stately edifice, however, is in dire need of repairs. The utilities systems in the 800,000-square-foot building last received a comprehensive update in the 1930s, and chunks of the marble and limestone facade are falling out; indeed, according to Weidemeyer, the falling stone pieces posed such a safety threat that “netting had to be installed last year to protect pedestrians.”

Corroded water pipes like this one will be replaced in the initial phase.

According to Ayers, burst pipes and falling plaster have plagued the building for years, and even though some safety measures have been implemented, “there is a risk of losing the building’s important significance” if the renewal does not occur.

William Weidemeyer, Superintendent of House Office Buildings, shows images of the damage during the press briefing.

The goals of the project are to increase the building's useful life by updating the known facility and infrastructure issues, bring the building in line with modern safety codes, improve energy efficiency, and meet security requirements. During the project, AOC will work on replacing and restoring the building's systems, including the HVAC, electrical, fire protection, facade, and domestic water networks that serve the building.

The building's complex fiber optics system will be modernized during the project.

Slated to take 10 years to complete, AOC estimates the budget of the five-phase project to be $752.7 million. Congress has already appropriated $100 million for the initial phase, which began in late December and will focus on upgrading the building’s utilities systems, including the chilled water and steam valves, as well as the entire building’s complex network of fiber optics. Only the prep work has been done thus far, including setting up construction trailers in the staff parking lot and cordoning off sections of the adjacent New Jersey Avenue.

Replacing the corroded water pipes is a cost-saving measure that will allow greater control over the systems.

The AOC's construction representative, Ryan Columbo, led a behind-the-scenes tour after the initial briefing. According to Columbo, the building’s chilled water valves are over fifty years old, and the steam valves are original to the 1908 building. Replacing the corroded steel pipes is not just a cost-saving measure, but it will allow greater control over the systems as deterioration has made it difficult for water to flow.

Ceiling pipes in the basement will be removed.

The exposed web of piping in the basement ceiling will be removed and the ceiling will be raised as well. The new utility system will also ensure greater efficiency and ability to resolve maintenance issues in individual member suites.

Construction Representative of House Superintendent’s Office, Ryan Columbo (center; in gray), led a behind-the-scenes tour after the initial briefing.

After work on the initial phase is complete -- scheduled for December 2016 -- each of the subsequent phases will focus on restoring one of the building’s four wings, meaning some Congressional members will need to be temporarily relocated as their offices are being improved. Each phase is slated to take two years to complete, with the whole project finishing up by November 2024.

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