Washington Monument fixes to be on hold for president’s trips

Think a presidential motorcade slows traffic? Consider the effect Marine One flyovers could have on construction crews attempting to repair the Washington Monument on schedule.

Crews fixing the damage to the 555-foot monument caused by last year’s earthquake expect they will have to abandon their workspace atop scaffolding around the structure up to five times a week for as much as two hours at a stretch to comply with White House security measures, National Park Service officials said Wednesday.

“The people up there have these lines of sight that no on else has,” said Michael Morelli, project manager for the National Park Service Denver Service Center. “Anytime the president moves, we have to bring everyone off the scaffold.”

Notice to abandon the monument because of a presidential takeoff or landing could come with as little as 20 minutes’ warning, and crews are expected to start the 900-step descent to the ground regardless of what the workers are doing, which could be something time-sensitive such as mixing mortar.

“Obviously, any materials that end up getting lost — like mortar that dries and we’ve got to toss it out — will be replaced as well,” Mr. Morelli said. “There’s a price for this delay.”

That price, the project manager said, is factored into a $9.6 million work contract, which includes allocations for other security measures such as metal detectors for workers, bomb-sniffing dogs for building materials, and a 24/7 security detail provided by the U.S. Park Police. If delays occur, the company can invoice the cost against the allocations.

Mr. Morelli said the Park Service knew ahead of time about the security requirements, but it’s a change from the last time the monument was repaired in 2000.

“This is post-9/11 now,” he said.

Park Service officials announced the awarding of the contract Wednesday to Perini Management Services Inc. of Framingham, Mass.

Robert Band, CEO of the company, a subsidiary of which led the construction of the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center in the District, said the security measures are nothing new.

Mr. Band said the company is completing a contracted project at Andrews Air Force Base, the site of the Air Force One hangar.

“When the president’s aircraft is taxiing, there’s all kinds of protocol in terms of what has to be shut down and where people can be,” he said. “We’re used to that. We’re very skilled at dealing with that.”

Officials said work at the monument is expected to begin in 60 days and last as long as 18 months. Some of the first business will be to erect a fence around the monument’s perimeter and establish an access point and work site.

Mr. Morelli said an 8-foot-high fence will be placed along the walking path that encircles the base of the monument, but he expects “most areas will be accessible. We’re trying to make sure people can get around things.”

Where the public can’t go is the access point near the Sylvan Theater on the south side of the monument, which is reserved for a single point of entry for workers, vehicles and building supplies.

Mr. Morelli said Park Police “will check all the vehicles that come into the site. They have a K-9 unit assigned, and they’ll check all the workers when they come in and out during the day.”

“You’ve got to do it,” he said. “There’s no arguing about it. Secret Service has their job, and we know what their concerns are.”

A Park Police spokesman said he did not know who was in charge of the security detail. Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said those logistics would be ironed out in the weeks leading up to the start of construction.

The monument was damaged in August last year when a 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck the East Coast. Park officials put a $15 million price tag on the total cost of repairs. Philanthropist David M. Rubenstein in January donated $7.5 million in private funds to get a matching federal grant to help repair the 90,000-ton structure.

Work to fix the monument began the day of the quake, and over the past year has included a seismic study, elevator repair, weatherproofing and, perhaps most famously, the rappelling of a difficult-access team along the sheer faces of the monument to assess the damage.

Park Service Superintendent Bob Vogel acknowledged Wednesday that he was aware “visitors are disappointed the monument has been closed for what seems like a long time,” but he added that the awarding of the contract was akin to “beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Staring up at the eastern face of the monument, Kensington resident Martha Wells said she was surprised it had taken so long to start the work.

“It’s been over a year,” she said. “Getting it done should be a priority. The Washington Monument is why people come to Washington.”

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