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3:02 pm
Mon May 12, 2014

Nearly 3 Years After Quake, Washington Monument Reopens

Originally published on Mon May 12, 2014 6:58 pm

The Washington Monument reopened to the public Monday for the first time since a 2011 earthquake caused significant damage to the obelisk. More than 20,000 stones had to be inspected. Scores turned out for a ceremony under sunny skies.

Children sang; the U.S. Army's Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps performed; and red, white and blue stars decorated the stage set up in front of the gleaming monument. White House counselor John Podesta described it as "the linchpin of the National Mall — the defining feature of the Washington skyline."

Philanthropist David Rubenstein donated $7.5 million, half the cost of the repairs. He also took the nearly 900 steps to the top — twice.

"I have had good fortune," Rubenstein said, "and I really just want to give back to the country."

It took not just expertise, but courage for the engineers who navigated 6,000 pieces of scaffolding. Some dangled from the pyramid at the very top of the 555-foot-tall obelisk.

Steve Monroe, project superintendent for Grunley Construction, said it wasn't easy.

"The biggest challenge was all the weather we had to deal with up here compared to ground level," Monroe said. "Thirty- to 40-mile-an-hour winds, started work, stopping work."

Shane Flynn, project manager from Lorton Stone, pointed to where the panels were basically held together by gravity prior to the earthquake. He pointed to a piece of metal known as the Pyramidion panel.

"One of them broke in half [during the quake]," he said. "There's probably an inch gap. So we injected it with epoxy and put the steel across for reinforcing."

On the east side of the observation level at the stairwell, you can see one of the repaired cracks, and a steel bracket next to it. James Perry, chief of resource management at the National Mall and Memorial Parks, explained that the saddle brackets hold the outside wall to the rib pieces of stone.

The repairs include 2.7 miles of repointing; 132 Dutchman repairs; approximately 665 linear feet of crack repairs; hundreds of mortar patches; and 52 panel anchors installed on the interior to secure the Pyramidion panels in case of a future event.

The experts say that means the Washington Monument should withstand any future earthquakes, which is good news for fans like Donnie and Debra Weber of California. They were waiting in line for tickets to take a tour of the top.

"We're both engineers," Debra Weber explained," so it's cool it had to be redone and it's structurally sound now."

Visitors can book a limited number tickets on site, but online reservations are full through June.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. The Washington Monument reopened to the public today for the first time since 2011. That's when an earthquake caused significant damage to the obelisk. And since then, more than 20,000 stones had to be inspected.

NPR's Allison Keyes was there today as the ribbon was cut.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) My country 'tis of thee...

ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: Under sunny skies, children sang and the U.S. Army's Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps performed.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMS)

KEYES: Red, white and blue stars decorated a stage set up in front of the gleaming monument, which White House councilor John Podesta described as...

JOHN PODESTA: ...the lynchpin of the National Mall, the defining feature of the Washington skyline.

KEYES: Philanthropist David Rubenstein donated $7.5 million, half the cost of repairs and took the nearly 900 steps all the way to the top, twice.

DAVID RUBENSTEIN: I have had good fortune and I really wanted to give back to the country.

KEYES: The engineers, who navigated 6,000 pieces of scaffolding, gave not only their expertise, but their courage - especially those who dangled from the very top of the pyramid of the obelisk. Steve Monroe, project superintendent for Grunley Construction, says it wasn't easy.

STEVE MONROE: The biggest challenge was all the weather that we had to deal with up here compared to down at the ground level - 30 to 40 mile an hour winds stopping work, starting work.

SHANE FLYNN: I'm the stone guy.

KEYES: That's Shane Flynn, project manager from Lorton Stone. From the observation deck facing south, he points up into the shadows where the panels were basically together just by gravity before the earthquake.

FLYNN: There's a piece of metal up there, it's an angle. It's a strong back. It's going across the largest crack on the monument. These are pryamdian panels. One of the panels broke in half - there's probably like an inch gap on that. So we injected it with epoxy and then we put the steel across for reinforcing.

KEYES: At the observation level facing east, you can see one of the repaired cracks and a steel bracket next to it. James Perry with National Mall and Memorial Parks explains...

JAMES PERRY: These are saddle brackets. They're holding the outside wall to these rib pieces of stone.

KEYES: That means the Washington Monument should withstand any future earthquakes, which is good news for fans like Donnie and Debra Weber of California. They were waiting in line for tickets to take a tour of the top.

DONNIE WEBER: Just to see the view itself, yeah, to see the view itself. Yeah, just to say we've been up there.

KEYES: Debra Weber says there's another reason to go up, besides a view of 30 miles in any direction on a clear day.

DEBRA WEBER: We're both engineers, so it's cool that it had to be redone and structurally sound now.

KEYES: Visitors can book a limited number of tickets on site, but online reservations are booked through June.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.