WASHINGTON - Visitors may have to wait a little longer to get into the Washington Monument.
The 555-foot obelisk at the apex of the National Mall closed for repairs in the wake of the August 2011 earthquake. National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said Monday a damage assessment found scaffolding is necessary to provide workers access to the top of the monument. Engineers determined most of the damage is above 475 feet on the structure.
That project could delay reopening the monument until 2014.
The park service has offered the $15 million project up for bids. Proposals are due by July 31. Johnson says the agency hopes to award a contract and begin mobilizing in September. From there it will take 12 to 18 months to complete the repairs.
This is disheartening news for the tourism industry, which has had to endure the monument's closure amid a massive project to restore the National Mall grounds. Engineers have dug up the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and the grassy area between Third and Seventh streets has been torn up for a landscaping overhaul.
The 5.8-magnitude earthquake last August caused a whiplash effect that cracked and loosened pieces of stone and mortar of the memorial. The quake was centered some 40 miles west of Richmond, Va., and was felt from Canada to Georgia. It damaged the Washington National Cathedral, where pieces of mortar rained down from its vaulted ceiling.
In January, a billionaire businessman David Rubenstein pledged $7.5 million to the restoration efforts. At that time NPS officials expected the repairs would be finished by this August.
Rubenstein said in January he wanted to help make certain the monument can be reopened as quickly as possible.
"Really, this is something that was built by the American people because of their admiration and love of George Washington," he said, noting $1 donations were collected to build the structure for a little more than $1 million. With his own many donations in Washington, Rubenstein said, "I kind of want to repay a debt I have to the country."
Congress allocated $7.5 million in December on the condition that private donations match that amount. The combined $15 million in public and private funds is expected to cover the cost of repairing damage directly caused by the quake. Repairing water damage from when rain leaked through will cost more, as would a seismic study or reinforcements to strengthen the structure against future earthquakes.
"This is a complex job," Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall, said in January. "This is a one-of-a-kind structure that poses challenges for repair that other buildings don't."
The monument was the world's tallest man-made structure when it was completed in 1884.
Check out this footage of the earthquake from inside the memorial's observation deck:
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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP and the Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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