The National Park Service sure picked the wrong (very slow news) day to announce the less-than-thrilling news that the Washington Monument could stay closed through 2014 for repairs to last year's earthquake damage.
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A busy-sounding Carol Johnson, spokeswoman for the Park Service, said she'd been fielding calls all afternoon on the story, which first appeared earlier Monday as a small item in the Washington Post's local section. It's been updated since, and is currently on the Post's homepage, something less likely to happen on a busier day. "We really didn't expect this kind of attention," Johnson said, but with the Supreme Court in recess and a general summertime slow-down in Washington, reporters picked up their phones on this one.
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The actual news is fairly straightforward: The Park Service said in construction documents outlining the monument's repair that it was accepting bids for work to begin in September that could last a year to 18 months. That means the latest it would reopen, if all goes well, is Spring 2014. The monument will have to be shrouded in scaffolding reaching almost its full 555-foot height in order to access a number of exterior panels that have cracked or come loose. Johnson said the Park Service wouldn't exceed its $15 million budget for the project.
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Some of the repairs to the monument, such as to its elevator, have already been carried out, Johnson said. But others, including cracks in its panels and beams, still need attention. "It’s structurally sound, it’s not going to fall down, but we don’t feel comfortable having visitors go in," Johnson said. Plus they would get in construction workers' way once work starts.
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One interesting thing about the latest document proposing repair work is the diagrams it offers (such as the one at left) showing exactly where the damage is, in particular to the outside paneling. There's a lot more information, some of it quite technical, on the Park Service's website, where the repair plans are open for comment now.