Cannon House Office Building Renovations Could Be $100 Million Over Budget

September 10, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – The cost of renovating of the Cannon House Office Building could rise to $100 million more than originally planned due to the discovery of hazardous materials in the historic building and plan changes over time, the inspector general for the Architect of the Capitol said Tuesday.

In testimony before the Committee on House Administration, Inspector General Christopher Failla recalled that when he last testified before the committee, in May 2017, his office was “riddled with vacancies, had an employee morale problem, and was recovering from a less than flattering Government Accountability Office report” all of which impact its oversight of the Cannon project.

Since then, Failla said his office addressed all of the GAO’s concerns and has achieved a greater level of transparency with the Architect of the Capitol.

In addition, he said his office has partnered with Cotton & Company LLP, an Alexandria accounting firm that began two construction audits for the Cannon project earlier this year.

Failla said recent discussions with the architect of the Capitol’s office revealed the Cannon project is trending to run anywhere from $75 million to $100 million over budget or 10 to 15 percent above original cost estimates.

A separate briefing with the Cannon project managers set the budget increase at about $79 million or 10.5 percent above original projections.

The initial estimated budget for the project was $753 million. Terrell Dorn, managing director for infrastructure operations at the Government Accountability Office, told the committee the current cost estimate for the project now stands at $828 million to $866 million.

In written testimony submitted before the hearing, Failla went on to tell the committee that a line-by-line review of the budget “found little or no room” to address the cost overrun without further “affecting schedule, security or staffing.”

The Cannon House Office Building is the oldest congressional office building aside from the U.S. Capitol itself, and it has not received a comprehensive infrastructure upgrade since the 1930s. In fact, many of the building’s systems are original, dating back to 1908 or earlier.

“When completed, the Cannon Renewal Project will provide an updated workplace for the next century to serve the needs of the U.S. House of Representatives and support congressional operations,” said Thomas J. Carroll III, the acting Architect of the Capitol.

Brian Abt, who oversees the project for Clark Construction Group, said in prepared testimony that the still unfinished phase 1 of construction was delayed partly by the Architect of the Capitol’s numerous requests to change the original design plans and by the discovery of a contaminant — polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — in the mortar of the exterior stone façade along New Jersey Avenue.

The requested changes to the project included the creation of a new food serving area that could accommodate hot food, new electrical systems in the Budget and Homeland Security committee hearing rooms, and additional card readers at suite entry doors.

In addition to the discovery of the PCBs in the exterior facade, Abt said his team encountered problems related to decades-old construction projects intended to create space for new mechanical, electric, and plumbing lines. Many of these created spaces were not properly supported, he said.

“Each owner request and unforeseen condition requires changes to the design and construction plans,” Abt said. “These changes necessarily affect the timing and cost of the work by complicating workflows, causing re-work, compressing schedules, and often requiring extra crews or overtime to complete. Changes also tend to create a cascading effect as delays and overruns in one area of work affect the next.

Acting Architect of the Capitol Carroll said his office accepted the project would be “extremely complex” from the outset.

“Changes in any infrastructure project are inevitable and driven by the need to address unforeseen conditions, code updates, design flaws and/or required scope additions,” he said.

“Changes can be minor, but some are disruptive to the overall project schedule and cost. This is particularly true when working on historic renovations.”

In addition, Carroll said, “there was limited original documentation on Cannon, so surprises in the original structure were bound to arise. Unforeseen site conditions such as the unexpected need for hazardous material removals and more extensive exterior stone restoration were significant. Complications installing new ducts and conduit in the basement impacted constructability. And numerous scope changes, including code-driven updates and stakeholder requests, were persistent throughout the two-year phase.”

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