The Washington Monument is to remain closed until 2019 due to repairs, the National Park Service announced Dec. 2.
The monument has been closed since Aug. 17 following three previous closures, including a three-year period following a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in 2011, which occurred 84 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., yet nonetheless cracked the monument. Initial repair evaluations estimated a nine-month time frame to update the monument’s elevator, which broke down several times in the past year.
New repair proposals estimate the monument will remain closed for at least two more years. The repairs are composed of two main components: modernization of the monument’s elevator and updating the screening facility.
National Parks Service Public Affairs Officer Michael Litterst said both renovations are crucial to maintain the monument’s sustainability.
“The modernization of the elevator is absolutely necessary given the number of times it broke down in the past year,” Litterst said. “We can’t simply operate with a hope and a prayer that people won’t get stuck. The screening facility, is as well, is a necessity.”
The monument, a 555-foot obelisk, has used a temporary security screening area since 2001. The National Parks Service plans to construct a permanent screening facility.
D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) is optimistic repairs will lead to safer access to the monument for visitors.
“The much-needed modernization of the monument’s elevator will resolve the chronic problems that have forced repeated shutdowns of the monument, many of which occurred during peak tourist season,” Holmes wrote in a Dec. 2 statement.
Businessman David Rubenstein, founder of The Carlyle Group, a D.C.-based global private equity firm, pledged to fund the $2-3 million project of modernizing the elevator. Rubenstein said helping restore the monument is a personal honor.
“The monument has become a symbol of our country, and reminds everyone of the towering strengths of our first president,” Rubenstein wrote in a statement. “I am honored to help make this symbol safely accessible again to all Americans as soon as possible.”
Rubenstein already donated $7.5 million for repairs following damages from the 2011 earthquake, and donated $18.5 million for restorations to the Lincoln Memorial earlier this year.
However, the NPS has not yet secured funding for renovations of the screening facility. Funding information for the screening facility is set to be released in the 2017 fiscal budget release.
“It’s just a matter of when we get the funding and then we can start,” Litterst said. “I can’t speculate on when Congress may take action on that funding.”
There is no concrete timeline for the project because the NPS said it must first receive funding from the passing of the 2017 fiscal budget before it can publish a start date for the repairs schedule.
“We certainly share the public’s frustration at the closure for such a long time, but the updates are certainly necessary,” Litterst said.
Students have also expressed regret regarding the closure of the monument. Kendall Place (COL ’20) said though she understands safety concerns, she wanted to be able to access the monument.
“I’m a little disappointed,” Place said. “The Washington Monument is a symbol of our country, and it means a lot to people. But safety’s first.”