As crews push to finish the long-overdue Capitol Visitors Center proj-ect in Washington, D.C., Congress and industry are stepping up the search for candidates for the recently vacated post of Architect of the Capitol. The office oversees the center and other construction at the Capitol, Library of Congress and House and Senate offices. Alan Hantman retired Feb. 4 after his 10-year term as AOC ended. He did not seek reappointment.

AOC oversees visitors center, a job that has lagged.

In recent years, Hantman’s office came under fire from Congress for lengthy delays and cost escalation on the visitors center. When the project began in 2002, estimates suggested it could be completed in January 2005 for $265 million. The latest estimate projected that costs could top $600 million, with its opening date put off to early 2008.

The American Institute of Architects last fall prepared a list of four potential candidates, which it submitted to the Senate Rules Committee. AIA has been part of the process before, recommending Hantman and his predecessor, George White, as candidates. AIA President-elect Marshall E. Purnell, who headed the AOC effort, says Congress also has hired a search firm. Purnell, design principal of Washington-based Devrouax + Purnell Architects and Planners, wouldn’t name AIA’s candidates.

AIA has attempted to deflect congressional criticism and suggestions that the next AOC should have more managerial experience. “To me, that doesn’t exclude architects,” Purnell says. “We need a licensed, registered architect. That will guarantee a certain level of quality.” He says AIA considered architects with facilities management experience. Before becoming AOC, Hantman was vice president for facilities planning and architecture for Rockefeller Center in New York City.

A successor may not be on board when the visitors center opens in 2008. It took more than a year to select and approve Hantman, and observers expect this round will take nearly as long. For now, Deputy Architect and Chief Operating Officer Stephen Ayers is acting AOC. Ayers has worked in the office for 10 years.

Purnell says the search firm is expected to release its list of names by early summer. Three candidates eventually will be recommended to President Bush. His pick then requires Senate confirmation.

“We just hope this doesn’t turn political,” Purnell says. “It’s a Democratic Congress and a Republican President, so you never know. We’re not concerned about what party the candidate is in. We just want someone who is qualified.”