Luxe Congressional Visitor Center Almost Ready

In addition to an on-site museum with historical artifacts like the pedestal on which caskets have lay in state since Abraham Lincoln and a miniature cutout of the Capitol dome and a touch screen interactive computer lesson, the CVC gives visitors a new cafeteria and greatly expands the number of restrooms in the building -- both important additions, as any red-coated Capitol Hill docent will tell you.

What there is not, according to Ayers, is a secret underground bunker as part of the Capitol Visitors Center. That, he said, is an urban legend, although there is enough nonpublic space in the 580,000-square-foot visitors center to fit a secret fallout bunker.

Tourists are not the only ones who will benefit from the visitors center. There is, on the Senate side, a new state of the art recording studio for senators to do television and radio interviews that can be beamed via satellite to their home districts. On the House side of the visitors center is a new, more spacious studio for press conferences.

Delays and cost overruns are nothing new in Capitol construction.

"Like so many aspects of American life, the Capitol is often viewed as a work in progress -- an architectural evolution reflecting the country's own political, economic and social development. It was not the vision of a single person nor the product of a single age; rather, it was -- and continues to be -- the accumulation of thousands of ideas worked by thousands of people over a 200-year period," according to historian William Allen in his "History of the United States Capitol: A Chronicle of Design, Construction and Politics."

"Honorable and gifted political leaders, architects, and builders appear at critical moments in the Capitol's history, but the story is also tangled and enlivened by dozens of unscrupulous and obstreperous characters who complicate matters along the way," wrote Allen, whose book is available for free download at the Senate website.

The last major construction completed on Capitol Hill was the Hart Senate Office building in 1982, after a decade of construction and the then-jaw-dropping sum of $137 million. Newspaper reports at the time indicated that senators didn't want to move their staffs into the new and opulent building at the time because the country was then also in an economic downturn and it sent a bad impression to voters back home. As it happened, senators with the lowest seniority had to be ordered to move their offices.

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