Architect of the Capitol details millions in damages to the “People’s House”

The High Cost of Clean-Up

Architect of the Capitol details millions in damages to the “People’s House”

The U.S. Capitol building pictured following the January 6 breach carried out by supporters of Donald Trump in an attempt to disrupt the electoral vote count of the 2020 presidential election. (Brendan Beale/Unsplash)

As federal charges against participants in the violent January 6 melee at the U.S. Capitol complex in Washington, D.C., continue to roll in, the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) has attached a monetary figure to the vast damages incurred during the pro-Trump riot.

As first reported by NPR, J. Brett Blanton, the current Architect of the Capitol, told members of the House Appropriations Committee last week that repair and restoration costs have reached $30 million and will likely soar higher if related security measures are extended beyond the end of this month. This includes maintaining a contentious and meant-to-be-temporary perimeter fence around the Capitol building. In addition to remedying physical damage and post-insurrection security needs, the figure also includes counseling and mental health services provided to traumatized members of Congress, staffers, and Capitol employees.

“While the physical scarring and damage to our magnificent Capitol building can be detected and repaired, the emotional aspects of the events of Jan. 6 are more difficult to notice and treat,” the New York Times reported Catherine Szpindor, the House’s chief administrative officer, as telling the committee panel. Spzindor relayed that 3,000 requests for mental health counseling normally come in over the course of an entire year. Over the past six weeks, counselors have had over 1,150 interactions with those traumatized by the events of January 6.

While the committee has already approved Blanton’s $30 million transfer request, he made it clear that more funds will likely be needed down the road for crucial repairs. “History teaches us that project costs for replacements and repairs beyond in-kind improvements across campus will be considerable and beyond the scope of the current budgetary environment” NPR reported Blanton as telling lawmakers during his sworn testimony.

Sworn in January 2020 after being nominated for the position of AOC by Donald Trump in December 2019, Blanton, who is a licensed airport and naval engineer but not a trained or licensed architect, has faced intense scrutiny in the weeks following the insurrection. Both Paul D. Irving, the House Sergeant at Arms, and Capitol Chief-of-Police Steven A. Sund resigned shortly following the riot. Blanton currently sits on the board of the Capitol Police; both Sund and Irving served as fellow board members prior to their respective resignations. The AOC, whose responsibilities including overseeing the care and maintenance of the 570-acre Capitol campus and the many buildings within it including the U.S. Supreme Court and Capitol Visitor Center, serves a ten-year term. Blanton is the 12th person to serve that role.

In his testimony, Blanton detailed to lawmakers the specific actions taken by AOC employees during the insurrection including aiding congressional staffers in sheltering in place while the mob descended on the complex.

“Other members of our team raced to the roof to reverse the airflows within the building to help clear the air of chemical irritants, like bear repellents and pepper spray, while more team members rushed bottles of water and eyewash stations to Capitol Police officers in need of assistance,” Blanton told lawmakers. At the time, a small army of workers was in the process of readying the complex for Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration. Much of that work was destroyed, including the destruction of the inauguration platform. Sound systems and photography gear were also either pilfered or trashed according to the Times.

In addition to the wrecking of inauguration-related structures and equipment, Blanton also elaborated on the greater damage to the Capitol, much of which was comprehensively inventoried in the immediate days following the January 6 riot. Broken glass, battered doors, and graffiti were prevalent throughout the complex while historic statues and busts, furniture, paintings, and murals—many of them lining the hallways near the House Chamber—also suffered damage as a result of the use of pepper spray and other potentially staining chemical irritants used by both rioters and law enforcement officials as well as fire extinguishers, which can leave behind a messy, often marring residue. Two 19th-century bronze exterior light fixtures designed by Frederick Law Olmsted were also ripped from the ground by the mob and now require extensive repair and must be reinstalled.

According to the Times, Farar Elliott, an art historian and curator who serves as chief of the Office of Art and Archives for the U.S. House of Representatives, has also requested an additional $25,000 for emergency repair and conservation efforts, noting that damage to art and artifacts held in the House collection was “significant.” Elliott said that her office normally budgets for a “single unforeseen conservation event” each year. The events of January 6 managed to cram decades of urgent conservation needs into a single chaotic afternoon.

The oldest object in the House collection, a silver inkstand dating back to 1819, was spared from damage or theft thanks to “quick thinking by a journal clerk,” per Elliott.