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Inside Look: Jefferson Memorial gets accessibility, historical upgrades

Jefferson Memorial (Victoria Sanchez/7News)
Jefferson Memorial (Victoria Sanchez/7News)
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WASHINGTON (WJLA) — The Thomas Jefferson Memorial will undergo another renovation, this time totaling $18 million. The memorial overlooking the Tidal Basin has been the site of a major clean-up project and repairs. The $14.5 million restorations that began in early 2019 restored the roof and stone and cleaned the marble of dark patches called biofilm.

“We’ve been up a few times over the last couple of years and it’s gleaming white as it was intended to be. Now we are moving on to the next phase,” said National Park Service Spokesperson Mike Litterst.

RELATED | Exclusive photo gallery: An up-close look at Jefferson Memorial's $14 million restoration

7News was given exclusive access to the dome and roof of the memorial cleaning in 2019, 2020 and in April 2021. The scaffolding that surrounded the building is finally gone. Work now begins with accessibility to the building.

“If you can’t do the stairs or just don’t want to, how do you get up to the memorial?” 7NEWS Reporter Victoria Sanchez asked Litterst as they stood at the entrance.

“Currently there are ramps on the backside of the memorial,” he explained.

If someone is at the front near the Tidal Basin, they will have to go towards East Basin Drive, find the ramp and double back. Two new ramps are planned for the front.

The 19-ft. tall Jefferson statue will stay the same but little else under his feet. The exhibits depicting Jefferson’s life reside beneath the chamber.

“We’re walking into the exhibit space and it’s almost like walking into a dungeon,” said Sanchez as she and Litterst walked down a narrow hallway.

MORE | Did you know? Jefferson Memorial was originally slated to be monument for Roosevelt

“It’s certainly not inviting,” said Litterst.

The last update to the space was 27 years ago in 1994. The exhibit will get much more than a fresh coat of paint.

“How do we reconcile the man who wrote, ‘All men are created equal' with the fact that he enslaved more than 600 people in his lifetime?’” Litterst asked rhetorically.

He explained a dozen scholars and organizations are being tapped to help re-tell the story.

PHOTOS: Thomas Jefferson Memorial through the years

“So, when this reopens, should people expect more than just a few photos of slaves?” asked Sanchez.

“Absolutely. If people can’t come here to see that, then we would have failed in this project,” he responded.

The restoration and upgraded exhibit should take two years with a completion date of November 2023.

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Correction: In an initial version of this story we reported that the renovations cost $12 million, but it's $18 million. We apologize for our error.

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