Monument undergoes second phase of renovation plan

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WASHINGTON -- Night may be the best time to see the Washington Monument this summer and fall as work continues on a 14-month exterior renovation project that is expected to last until next July.

In the daytime, the view of the 550-foot obelisk is obscured by sky-blue architectural mesh and a framework of aluminum scaffolding.

But at night, the custom-designed framework, fitted with 500 lights, shines upon the monument's marble exterior, and the monolith emerges from its shroud. This is how the capital's most prominent landmark will look at the end of this century as it enters the new millennium.

The National Park Service has targeted July 4, 2000, as the completion date for the monument's exterior renovation, according to Earle Kittleman, a Park Service spokesman.

The exterior work, the second phase of a three-phase project, is by far the most extensive. It constitutes a $6 million effort that has had workers going over every square inch of marble since May, sealing the stone to stop moisture from migrating into the interior, Kittleman said.

The project to restore the Washington Monument began early last year as a partnership between the National Park Service and Minneapolis-based Target Stores, according to Kittleman.

Target brought in corporate partners -- Discovery Communications Inc., Kodak, 3M, Visa USA, Coca-Cola and General Electric -- that provided all the lighting free. Together, the corporate sponsors put up $5 million. Congress appropriated $1 million.

Phase 1, now completed, accomplished the renovation of the elevator and the heating, air-conditioning and ventilation systems. Phase 3 involves renovating the observation deck, which occupies the top 50 feet of the monument.

Meanwhile, the monument remains open to visitors, Kittleman said. "We're still allowing people to go inside, take the elevator to the top and look out the windows," he said, "but they will see scaffolding."

There will be times, though, when the monument will have to be closed, Kittleman noted. "That's one of the reasons we have the interpretive center," he said. The Washington Monument Interpretive Center is housed in two temporary, one-story, modular structures on the monument grounds, near the corner of Constitution Avenue and 15th Street.

Billed as an interactive center focusing on Washington -- "the man, the city and the monument" -- the interpretive center was the creation of the Discovery Channel, which also wanted to help explain to visitors the very visible restoration project.

The inside of the center features exhibits, videos, touch-screen interactives and graphic displays, but Kittleman finds the outside interesting, as well, in its very unobtrusiveness. "It's very clever," he said. "It's very light on the landscape.

"It has a blue awning over it to keep off the elements and keep it cool. It's not flamboyant." Visitors can reserve their free tickets to enter the monument at a kiosk on 15th Street about 50 yards from the interpretive center. The line for the monument queues up outside the back door of the center.

Travelers also can reserve tickets through TicketMaster at (800) 505-5040. There is a $1.50 convenience charge per ticket and a 50-cent handling charge per order.

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