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Supreme Court's exterior to get a face-lift

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Wed May 2, 2012
Work will begin next week to repair and preserve the exterior of the Supreme Court building in Washington.
Work will begin next week to repair and preserve the exterior of the Supreme Court building in Washington.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In 2005, marble fell 100 feet onto the stairs leading to Supreme Court entrance
  • Work will begin next week to repair and preserve the front exterior
  • Visible protective netting has been in place since the incident
  • The project on the 1935 building is expected to take 21 months

Washington (CNN) -- The Supreme Court building is getting a face-lift to its famous facade, seven years after a chunk of marble fell 100 feet onto the stairs leading to the entrance, where it broke into pieces.

Court officials announced Wednesday work will begin next week to repair and preserve the front exterior, which is decorated with artistic friezes, ornate molding, and the words "Equal Justice Under Law."

The project will take 21 months. No estimate of the cost was released. Access to the building will not be affected.

Visible protective netting has been in place since the November 2005 incident, when either one or two sections of marble totaling about 80 pounds fell onto the plaza below fell onto the plaza below. They were part of the dentil molding lining the west pediment, above the Robert Aitken sculpture of "Liberty Enthroned."

The episode occurred about 9:30 a.m., about 30 minutes before oral arguments were to begin. At the time, about three dozen people were lined up outside the building, 15 feet from where the shattered white marble -- some about 12 inches by 10 inches in size -- fell.

One of the witnesses, Ed Fisher, said the fall was preceded by "a big cracking sound." Other visitors, including some schoolchildren, picked up bits of marble that had trickled down the exterior steps, saving them as souvenirs.

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The dislodged marble fell from above a figure called Authority, one of three central figures in the sculpture, along with Liberty and Order.

The building had been undergoing an extensive interior rehabilitation at the time, but court officers had no official explanation for what caused the falling marble.

The court said that after an untold number of surveys, a stone conservation consultant has recommended work, including "cleaning, pointing, bird deterrent removal, stone consolidation to prevent further deterioration, and necessary repairs."

"The project will require the erection of scaffolding on the west side of the building," said a court statement. "The scaffolding and ongoing conservation work will be concealed by a scrim that will mimic the court's architecture." A scrim is a durable fabric or upholstery used in construction projects.

The Corinthian-style building, clad in Vermont marble, was opened in 1935.

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