White House emerges from $86m two-year makeover… but it doesn’t look like anything has actually changed
- Four year construction project expected to cost $376 million
- After two years and $86 million, not much appears to have happened
- Witnesses say it has involved an underground, multistory structure which required ‘truckloads of heavy-duty concrete’
By Daily Mail Reporter UPDATED:11:04 EST, 13 September 2012
It has taken nearly two years, and $86 million but the West Wing of the White House has finally emerged from behind the gravel and scaffolding and the result is – nothing much.
Two years remain of the project, landing the White House administration with a total bill of over $376 million, but the next phase has yet to be determined.
The current outcome of the construction project, which began in September 2010, is visually anticlimactic, however what lies beneath the surface remains shrouded in mystery.
A year ago White House officials said it was an ‘overdue upgrade of underground facilities’ including the sewage system, but rumours said the big hole in the ground was in fact the construction of an underground tunnel.
Witnesses have said the project involved a sprawling, multistory structure whose underground assembly required truckload after truckload of heavy-duty concrete and steel beams.
The GSA maintains this structure is merely ‘facilitating’ the utility work. But neither the agency nor the administration will elaborate on its function.
Last year, when the project began, GSA officials denied the construction was for additional office space or another bomb shelter. The existing White House bunker, known as the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, is under the East Wing and dates to the Roosevelt administration.
The construction project began in with the excavation of a huge, multistory pit in front of the West Wing, wrapping around to include West Executive Avenue, the street that separates the White House from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
A tall, green construction fence sprang up that blocked America’s most famous office complex from public view.
But now the fence has come down, revealing the familiar whitewashed sandstone facade and the lone Marine guard who stands watch at the entrance to the West Wing lobby.
Bulldozers have covered up the hole. Contractors have repaved the asphalt driveway. National Park Service crews are mostly finished re-grading, re-sodding and replanting. Their goal has been to return the area to its original appearance.
So what, exactly, did all the digging, hammering, welding and concrete-pouring accomplish?
The General Services Administration, which oversaw the work, said it was to replace aging water and steam lines, sewers, storm sewers and electrical wiring conduits. Heating, air conditioning and fire control equipment also are being updated, officials said.
The GSA went to great lengths to keep the work secret, not only putting up the fence around the excavation site but ordering subcontractors not to talk to anyone and to tape over company info on trucks pulling into the White House gates.
Future phases of the project, whose total price tag tops $376 million, are expected to involve more excavation elsewhere on the North Lawn — the well-groomed park that tourists see from the fence on Pennsylvania Avenue — and possibly inside the East and West wings. GSA officials say wrap-up work is actually continuing on the underground utilities, albeit out of sight.
And they resolutely refuse to identify the next major work area, or to say when that construction will begin.
‘The scope of any additional work in the West and East wings has not been determined, so the timing, obviously, hasn’t been finalized,’ said agency spokeswoman Mafara Hobson.