Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

4 more years - of renovations at the White House

A $376 million project starts this weekend, the biggest upgrade since the Truman era.

WASHINGTON - After getting settled in a new house, who doesn't want to take on a home-improvement project?

Parts of the White House have gotten a little creaky and out-of-date since the last overhaul five decades ago, so starting Saturday, the jackhammers and backhoes will be fired up to begin a four-year, $376 million project to improve the infrastructure in the East and West Wings.

"This is the biggest upgrade since the complete renovation of the executive mansion in the Truman era," said Bob Peck, public buildings commissioner of the General Services Administration, which manages federal facilities.

President Obama, who often tells audiences about the advantages of having a "nice home office," won't have to move his family out, as President Harry Truman and first lady Bess Truman did.

Still, as with any renovation, there will be noise and dust and workers in the hallways. Many top White House aides will lose coveted parking spaces on West Executive Drive, which will be used by heavy machinery and construction vehicles.

The work will also mar the background for tourists who gather each day on the sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue to photograph the North Portico, and will force a move by the television correspondents who usually broadcast from the fringe of the North Lawn. Much of the work involves tearing up the lawn.

Workers will be replacing decades-old heating, cooling, electrical, and fire-alarm equipment and unspecified security systems. Construction work will take place from 7:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m., Peck said.

The West Wing, built in 1902, houses the Oval Office, the vice president's office, the Cabinet Room, the Situation Room, and offices for top presidential aides.

The East Wing, added in 1942, is occupied mostly by the first lady and her staff, the White House military office, and the Secret Service, and it also includes the movie theater.

The price tag is more than 100 times the total cost of building the White House in the 1790s. Congress approved funding in 2008 for the renovations after some of the systems in the White House were deemed to be approaching the end of their "reliable productivity."

"There have been some service interruptions," Peck said. "And we can't afford to have that."

The Truman-era renovation of 1948-52 involved a complete rebuilding of the main structure from the inside out. Truman moved into Blair House, the presidential guest quarters across Pennsylvania Avenue.

With trucks and heavy machinery arriving at the White House, Peck is keeping his fingers crossed.

While GSA officials have said the project would take four years, they are hedging their bets in case "unforeseen conditions" arise, Peck said. He has already put on standby "lots of experts," including archaeologists and emergency-response crews.

Said Peck, "There can't be any 'oopses' in a project like this."