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A construction crew starts work on a renovation of the White House's West Wing  on Aug. 4, 2017. A construction crew starts work on a renovation of the White House's West Wing  on Aug. 4, 2017.

A construction crew starts work on a renovation of the White House's West Wing on Aug. 4, 2017.

Manuela Tobias
By Manuela Tobias August 8, 2017

Are renovations keeping Trump out of the White House?

President Donald Trump partly blamed White House renovations for his Bedminster golf course retreat in a tweet on Aug. 7, 2017.

"Working hard from New Jersey while White House goes through long planned renovation. Going to New York next week for more meetings."

We’ve already rated Trump’s promise to not take vacations as Stalled, but we wondered about the scope and timeline of the renovations keeping him away from the Oval Office. It turns out they were indeed long in the planning.

The West Wing’s 27-year-old heating, ventilation and air conditioning system is being re-upped because thanks to constant use, deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said, the system is well past its life cycle.

"The West Wing will be without air conditioning for the next two weeks, which is why the staff and the president are moving out, because I don’t think any of you would like to be in the West Wing in an August D.C. summer day when it’s over 100 degrees with no air conditioning," Walters said.

The General Service Administration assessed and priced at $1.97 million the installation of a new system in the West Wing in 2014, but only presented a plan to change it in the fall of 2016. The Obama administration approved the project but left its realization to the next president.

The Trump administration will take advantage of the time for the air conditioning repair to also switch out the carpeting and paint the walls. Those cosmetic changes, Perry said, are commonplace for an incoming first family.

These renovations typically occur closer to Inauguration Day, but the Trump administration deferred them until August. Carpet replacement will cost $1.17 million and a fresh coat of paint $275,000.

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Betty Monkman, who served as White House curator from 1967 to 2002, told us that August is a great time for refurbishments as the president and his family are away, staffers take vacation, and Congress isn’t in session.

The staffers who are still working in the West Wing were relocated to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, an unusual move for annual refurbishments.

"I don’t remember the staff being moved to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, but this affects the whole building," Monkman said. "The West Wing is small for all the staff that uses those spaces and it’s constantly being updated, so things change to accommodate that."

The last time the HVAC unit was changed in the residence (which is separate from the West Wing) was in 1994, Monkman recalled. The renovation was still in the works when President Bill Clinton and his family returned from Martha’s Vineyard, so they stayed across the street at the Blair House, the president’s guest house.

The Trumans also stayed at the Blair House when they gutted and rebuilt the White House.

In addition to these changes, the White House is also renovating the Navy Mess kitchen, the West Wing lower lobby, the IT system and the South Portico steps. And following a week of flash floods in Washington (as well as frequent discussion of leaks to the press), they’re addressing ceiling leaks in the Lower Press area.

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Trump said the White House was going "through long planned renovation."

The HVAC system upheaval keeping him and his staff out of the West Wing has been in the planning since 2014, while other typical White House refurbishments like carpet replacement and repainting have been put off since the inauguration.

Presidents typically take an August recess and relocate to Blair House if more time is necessary, so we see nothing out of the ordinary in Trump’s tweet.

We rate this statement True.

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Says his time away from Washington coincides with a "long planned renovation" for the White House.
in a tweet
Monday, August 7, 2017

Our Sources

Donald J Trump, Tweet, Aug. 7, 2017

CNN, "While Trump's away, 'much-needed' White House renovations begin, Aug. 4, 2017, Press Gaggle, Aug. 3, 2017

New York Times, With Trump on Vacation, a Sprucing Up for the West Wing, Aug. 4, 2017

Town and Country Magazine, The White House Is Undergoing a Major Renovation, Aug. 7, 2017

Phone interview with Betty Monkman, former White House curator, Aug. 7, 2017

Phone interview with Barbara Perry, Presidential Studies director at the University of Virginia, Aug. 7, 2017

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Are renovations keeping Trump out of the White House?

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