Visitors to the Capitol building on Wednesday may have spotted an unusual sight: workers rappelling off the famous golden dome.
The workers were wrapping up a $17 million restoration project with a few touch-ups on the outside of the building. After climbing out a window in the “lantern” section on top of the dome, the workers swung from a series of ropes and harnesses as they inspected the distinctive dome and applied new pieces of gold leaf.
The massive restoration project was kicked into action by a piece of cast iron that crashed from the ceiling of the observation deck to the floor eight years ago, resulting in the temporary closure of the unsafe area.
The accident eight years ago only emphasizes the need for regular building inspections, especially for historical buildings like the Capitol. There are about 21,338 building inspection businesses in the US, which employ 33,464 people.
Work on the interior of the Capitol building included using tile to replace the exposed concrete in the observation deck, but most of the work was done on the exterior dome. The dome was disassembled and the cast iron supports were overhauled. Then new copper sheeting was used to replace the old sheeting and finally, gold leaf was applied.
The gold leaf has been replaced three times, but this is the first time since the dome was built in 1908 that the substructure of the dome has been renovated, in spite of the fact that the dome has been pummeled with hail, wind and rain over the years, as well as at least three lightning strikes. The discreet new lightning rod on top of the dome should hopefully mitigate future severe weather.
Tourists eager to see the golden dome in all it’s glory won’t have to wait much longer. The restoration of the Capitol is almost complete, and a grand reopening will be held on Oct. 2, at which point the observation deck will once more be open for public visitation.