The project that is currently trashing the South Lawn of the White House initially landed on Donald Trump’s desk.
The White House needed substantial improvements to its future security apparatus, updates that would include digging deep and extensive, from the upper main entrance to the lower one, through acres of pristine green lawns. Times have changed since the last substantial review of the systems and, given that the country faces new security threats, known and unknown, coming from various entities, it was essential that the updates be carried out, according to the Service.
It would take a lot of workers, with machinery, temporary doors, and a lot of cumbersome locks and detours, perhaps for several weeks, possibly longer. The U.S. Secret Service, the National Park Service and the White House worked together to formulate a plan for the massive, multi-million dollar overhaul, which could be done in phases, so as not to upset the first family in residence, the sources said.
The final step of the implementation consisted of Trump’s Chief White House Administrator Timothy Harleth explaining the plan to the president and the first lady, and then giving the go-ahead signal to the Secret Service and the National Park Service. But the Trumps weren’t that willing. They didn’t want the noise and, Melania Trump in particular, wanted to avoid disturbing the aesthetics in the backyard, where perhaps there could be events. The first couple decided “to leave the matter to the next,” said one of the familiar people. That next guy turned out to be President Joe Biden.
The project, which has been ongoing for several weeks on the south side of the White House, is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the White House in several years. The work has stretched from the southern end of the lawn to the foot of the south entrance to the White House itself.
For more than a month, Biden has had to meet his helicopter, Marine One, at the Elipse, the park located under the perimeter of the South Lawn of the White House and just north of Constitution Avenue. Marine One has had to land and take off in this unusual location due to construction, and Biden has had to make a caravan of about two minutes from the White House to the Ellipse to get out and about, where he used to be able to walk out the door. walk back a few hundred meters and get on your private transport.
“It has been a headache,” said a Secret Service source with knowledge of the altered movements to circumvent the construction.
The last time there was an excavation of this magnitude was during the presidency of Barack Obama, when improvements were made to the north side of the White House that included security measures similar to those that are being carried out now, he told Citizen Free Press. another person familiar with the jobs.
“To maintain operational security, the United States Secret Service does not comment on the means and methods used to carry out the agency’s protection operations,” a Secret Service spokesman told Citizen Free Press when asked about the works at the south garden. The White House told Citizen Free Press that the work on the south lawn is an eight to ten week project. The National Park Service referred Citizen Free Press to the Secret Service.
According to contracts obtained by Citizen Free Press, most of the ongoing updates are taking place underground, where extensive conduit runs are being laid. These conduits have the capacity to contain various security devices, from wiring to cameras, to lighting and alternative energy sources. The scope of the system includes a strip of the White House of between one and three kilometers. The contract for most of this work was awarded in 2019 to The Whiting Turner Contracting Company for $ 17.9 million.
Whiting-Turner’s selection to manage and operate the site suggests that this duct construction project may have sensitive security needs, and that behind tall wooden fences that have been temporarily erected to avoid prying eyes, they are being installed. important technical components. Whiting-Turner, a construction operations and management corporation that already has major federal jobs under its belt, has overseen projects for, among others, NASA, the Department of Energy, the Architect of the Capitol, the White House Executive Residence , the Department of Justice, most branches of the military, and various national intelligence organizations. On its website, Whiting-Turner highlights its expertise in “fighting terrorism and protecting forces” as well as its experience in constructing and enforcing “classified and top secret requirements.” The company is also competent in installing “uninterruptible power and emergency power systems,” according to its website. Whiting-Turner declined to comment to Citizen Free Press about his projects, including the contract with the White House.
Presidents have to adapt
Trump may have been smart to move the project to the ‘next guy’, considering the weeks of disruption and noise that have already occurred, and which will likely continue for at least two or three more, according to a person familiar with the situation of the works.
A White House spokesman says neither the president nor his senior officials are frustrated by the changes to the usual route.
But it is not only Marine One that has had to change its route. The South Garden in its entirety covers several hectares of land, cared for by the National Park Service. In it is the White House Kitchen Garden, a basketball court, the White House swimming pool, several historical and ceremonial plantations and, since last year, the new tennis pavilion. It is also the location for most of the events that the White House organizes for the public, including the Easter Egg Roll, as well as many large-scale ceremonies of pomp and circumstance, including state visits and some of the state dinners that accompany them. The fact that it is fully closed, unearthed, and reassembled without a hitch (which is the goal) is a carefully choreographed operation.
The hard part, of course, is achieving this necessary and essential security enhancement for the president and his family without interrupting them too much in the process.
Under Obama, the West Wing received a two-year $ 86 million renovation, which also addressed security concerns, installed ductwork, and included a major modernization of the heating, ventilation and telecommunications systems. . Josh Earnest, then White House deputy press secretary, said when construction was completed: ‘Now that the sights and sounds of construction workers and their equipment are gone, my perspective on the North Lawn of the White House has improved, literally.
While the Obamas, and their staff, lived through the renovation, there was talk of the possibility of having to move the Oval Office operations to another location, according to the news of the time. If so, it would not be the first time that the president was displaced to carry out construction. In 1934, there was a major expansion and renovation of the West Wing, forcing Franklin Roosevelt to temporarily move from the Oval Office to the Blue Room on the State Floor of the White House. The rooms located between the State Dining Room and the East Room of the State Floor include the Blue Room, the Red Room and the Green Room; Roosevelt liked having his staff in the adjoining Red and Green rooms while he met with people in the Blue. Rooms on the State Floor are open to White House visitors and are used privately for formal events and visits.
“It was brief, but Roosevelt turned the Blue Room into his meeting office, and used the Yellow Oval of the Executive Residence for his private office,” said Matthew Costello, senior historian for the White House Historical Association.
The largest renovation of the White House took place between 1948 and 1952 under Harry Truman, forcing the Trumans to live in the Blair House, across the street, for most of that time. Among other disruptive renovations, Costello also pointed to the construction of the third floor of the White House, and the construction of a new roof, which in 1927 caused Calvin Coolidge to flee the noise and chaos. “Coolidge moved into the Patterson mansion on Dupont Circle (several blocks from the White House) until the renovations were completed,” Costello said. “Presidents also have to adapt.”
“There are many times that these large projects are approved by a previous administration, but do not go ahead until the next,” he added. In the same way that Trump passed on this current South Lawn work to Biden, Obama signed off on the North Lawn fencing project, but it wasn’t launched until Trump took office.
“Sometimes they slow them down a bit,” Costello said.