Security-Minded Capitol Revamp

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Capitol renovations security at Washington D.C. bomb shelter Dig Jim Stewart
CBS

When President Bush is sworn in at noon Thursday, he'll be standing in the same place he stood four years ago.

But it is a very different U.S. Capitol, after a half-billion dollars' worth of renovations there. It's a sign of the changing times after Sept. 11, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart,

To understand how much the U.S. Capitol building has changed since the last time President Bush walked down its steps to start an inaugural parade, you first have to know that where that parade starts is now a roof - a roof over one of the biggest digs in Washington history.

"The entire visitors center is three stories underground," says Alan Hantman, the architect of the Capitol.

As Stewart reports, underneath the pink granite pavers is emerging another little city unto itself: part tourist attraction, part office space for Congress. And though no one officially admits it, part bomb shelter.

Security, Hartman says, "was a key need over here."

And as long as al Qaeda keeps the building in its sights, it will remain so. Everything about the place reeks of security, from the walkway leading in to the vault-like entryway that the public will pass through.

"There will be bollards up at the top of the drive that will not allow vehicles to come onto the plaza itself," says Hartman.

Once inside the enormity of it all hits you.

"Fifty-three thousand loads of dirt have been taken out of here," says Hartman.

In some places the dig went down 70 feet. Underground escape routes lead to the House and Senate.

There will be a cafeteria, an exhibition gallery, a hearing room and twin amphitheaters for tourists to see a film about the Capitol, which will always be visible through twin panes of ballistic-proof glass.

Only ticketed visitors will be allowed into the building itself - visitors and a president who will now see their nation's Capitol in a new and sobering way.