- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2000

Federal officials and area businessmen joined celebrities yesterday at an official reopening ceremony for the Washington monument, although the obelisk won't be ready for the public until the end of the month.

The celebration was attended by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, singer Amy Grant, National Park Service Director Robert Stanton, and Michael Graves, the architect who designed the scaffolding for the project.

"It's a sacred place," Mr. Babbitt said of the monument.

"It's a place where Americans have come for generations. And we honor that experience and we honor that place by taking care of it."

The 550-foot-tall monument won't open on schedule tomorrow because of delays in renovating the observation floor and the visitors center below it. It will be ready for the public on July 31.

Climate problems and construction difficulties caused the delays, said Stephen Lorenzetti, a resource manager for the National Capital Parks-Central.

"Construction in this climate is a difficult thing to get done in time. "It's been hard to get full [construction] crews," Mr. Lorenzetti said.

Because all of the renovation work is in the visitors area, it has remained closed to the public, he said. New Plexiglas has been installed on the viewing level, and it takes time for the seals around it to settle.

"That's what's going on right now," he said.

"That's what is holding us up. There's a lot of glass work on those levels. It's not surprising when you're trying to work on a historic building for it to take longer than expected."

The renovation has been completed in three phases, Mr. Lorenzetti said. First, crews repaired the air conditioning and heating systems, along with the elevator.

Next, the stones in the monument were reset to prevent water leaking in, the granite and marble exterior was cleaned, and cracks in the stones were sealed. A large number of commemorative stones located inside and donated by all 50 states, foreign governments and private individuals also were restored.

Finally, work was started on the 490-foot-high exhibit level and the 500-foot-high observation floor. The new exhibit level features facts about George Washington's life and the construction of the monument, and houses a small gift shop.

The exhibit level was expanded, allowing visitors to walk all the way around the monument, Mr. Lorenzetti said.

"Before, many people had a claustrophobic feeling. We opened up the fourth side, removed what was in the old ceiling and raised it," he said.

"It's a night-and-day difference."

Installation of a new elevator is planned for December, when the park has fewer visitors.

Although many tourists have been disappointed that the monument is closed, they also have been understanding, said Suzanne Kelley, the acting site manager for the monument.

"We like it now that it's back to normal," David Binkley of Manassas said after visiting the monument yesterday. Mr. Binkley said he and his family were disappointed they could not go inside, but "we also remember when it's open, the lines are too long to get in anyway."

Delays in construction have plagued the monument since a memorial to the first U.S. president was proposed not long after Washington's death. Congress authorized construction in 1833 and architect Robert Mills created a design for it in 1836. The first stone was not laid until July 4, 1848, the National Park Service said.

Work was suspended in 1857 because of a series of financial setbacks and was not resumed until after the Civil War in 1876. The monument finally was completed in 1884 and was formally dedicated at a ceremony a year later.

It was another three years before the public was allowed inside the monument.

In recognition of the rededication more than 100 years ago, the U.S. Air Force Band yesterday played "Washington Monument Waltz," a piece written by Julia Maedel in 1885. The long-forgotten tune was created for the first dedication ceremony, but has been stored in the Library of Congress ever since.

Miss Grant sang "America the Beautiful," and the heads of the National Park Service, the National Park Foundation and Target Stores spoke about the renovation to a crowd of roughly 100 tourists and guests, who had gathered down the hill from the monument.

Target Stores donated $2.5 million toward the project and helped raise an additional $4 million of the $10 million cost to restore the monument.

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