Tourists visiting the Senate these days are being greeted by a sight that looks less like the scene of some of this country’s greatest debates than it does their neighbor’s basement renovation.
Workers are installing a wooden ramp down the center aisle to make the five-tiered chamber more accessible by wheelchair. As a result, the blue carpet has been torn apart and peeled back, many desks have been pushed out of the way, and protective plastic tarpaulin covers the remaining ones.
The project is one of several under way around the Capitol during Congress’ winter recess to bring the building into compliance with the 1992 Americans with Disabilities Act, said Herb Franklin, administrative assistant in the office of the architect of the Capitol.
This past year, the only member of the Senate who uses a wheelchair, Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., has been able to enter either the back of the chamber or the front. But once inside, he has been unable to move from the back to the front because the only way to do so would be up several steps.
Senate officials are also considering replacing maizecolored wall coverings with deep blue ones in hopes of making the chamber more telegenic.
The suite of second-floor offices used by House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., has also been ripped apart because its wiring was found to violate Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety regulations.