Tunnel contractor pokes through Virginia Capitol ceiling

May 9, 2022, 12:15 PM | Updated: 12:37 pm
FILE - Workers work on a section of the Capitol tunnel from the General Assembly building to the Ca...

FILE - Workers work on a section of the Capitol tunnel from the General Assembly building to the Capitol, March 8, 2022, in Richmond, Va. Dena Potter, a spokeswoman for the state agency overseeing the project, said the Capitol was briefly evacuated on March 14, 2022, after a contractor working on the $25 million tunnel “inadvertently” poked through the ceiling of a subterranean Capitol extension causing debris to fall into the visitors center cafe. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A contractor working on a $25 million tunnel that will connect Virginia’s Capitol to a nearby legislative office building “inadvertently” poked through the ceiling of a subterranean Capitol extension earlier this year, causing debris to fall into the visitors center cafe, a state official said.

The Capitol was briefly evacuated on March 14 while crews evaluated the damage, said Dena Potter, a spokeswoman for the state agency overseeing the project. The debris fell into the kitchen area and the cafe was closed at the time, with no employees inside.

Potter said the Department of General Services would not characterize the incident as a roof collapse.

“Crews patched the small holes, and there was no further damage. The Capitol resumed normal operations following the incident; however, the cafe remained offline in anticipation of a planned May 2 closure of the entire underground Visitor Center to accommodate both the tunnel excavation and a project to replace part of the extension’s roofing system,” Potter wrote in response to an Associated Press inquiry.

That closure, previously announced in April, is expected to remain in place through at least December “to ensure the safety of all visitors and employees at the Capitol,” her email said.

Visitors can still access the Capitol during the closure through a side entrance.

The work on the roofing system of the subterranean extension, which opened in 2007, is necessary to rectify water infiltration issues, the department has said. The project will involve temporarily removing the steps to the historic south portico.

Lawmakers approved funding in 2020 for the tunnel, which was pitched as a way to make it easier to navigate Capitol Square without having to go through multiple security checkpoints. It will connect to a new General Assembly building expected to open in time for next year’s legislative session. The tunnel project is expected to be completed in late 2023.

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Tunnel contractor pokes through Virginia Capitol ceiling