Washington Monument may be closed until 2014

Significant cracks opened in the monument after last August's earthquake. Photo: National Park Service

The earthquake-damaged Washington Monument may be closed until 2014 as repairs continue on the iconic symbol of the nation’s capital.

As first reported by the Washington Post, the iconic 555-foot tall structure that sits at the center of the National Mall may have parts of the interior and exterior covered in scaffolding as well.

The structure was damaged extensively in last August's 5.8-magnitude earthquake.{ } Engineers determined most of the damage is above 475 feet on the structure.

The National Park Service has offered the $15 million project up for bid and a timetable for the repairs has already been issued. Proposals are due by July 31. National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson says the agency hopes to award a contract and begin mobilizing in September for what could be a 12-to-18 month repair process.

Officials do say that the damage isn't any worse than what they anticipated from the start, but that the true challenge is the height at which the repairs need to be made.

Repairs to the monument will also include the temporary removal of the circular plaza which encircles the base, including the benches and string of flags that adorn it.

One cracked corner of the monument is held together by a lead joint and a lightning protection line that was also bent out of shape in the earthquake, according to the damage assessment. In some places, masonry anchors will be installed to strengthen the damaged stone.

The scaffolding that will be built for the repair project will be similar to one used when the monument's exterior was refurbished in 1999 and 2000.

Officials hope to use a decorative cover for the metal scaffolding, similar to a covering used 12 years ago that proved popular with the public when it was lit at night.

A circular stone plaza at the base of the monument and some flagpoles and benches will have to be removed to install scaffolding. Plans for the earthquake repair project were released Monday for public comment. Engineers have not recommended further strengthening of the monument against future earthquakes, according to the repair plan.

Park service officials may install a web camera near the top of the monument to show the work being done online. They are also looking at other ways to keep visitors to the National Mall informed about the project.

Congress has allocated $7.5 million for the repair project. In January, Washington businessman David Rubenstein pledged another $7.5 million to complete the work.

The monument was the world's tallest man-made structure when it was completed in 1884.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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