Representing The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Springfield Chapter At Grassroots in Washington DC

by Gerri Kielhofner, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Our local AIA Chapter, like most chapters throughout the United States, sends their president and president-elect to the annual Grassroots Conference held in Washington DC each February. I had the privilege of attending Grassroots for two years already due to the fact that our president-elect two years ago couldn’t go. Last year I went as president-elect and this year I attended as our component president.  Even though I’ve attended two previous conferences, I still felt unprepared for the Capital Hill visits, which are a major part of this conference.  Who really knows what to say to a politician, and will it really make any difference?  More on that later.

My husband Brad goes along with me every year, so we booked our flights and made it to Ronald Reagan International Airport around 3:30 pm.  We always take the Metro to our hotel, the Grand Hyatt, in downtown DC.  I haven’t been to very many major cities with rail systems, but the DC Metro is very clean and pretty sophisticated.  Blinking lights warn passengers waiting at each station when the train is approaching.  A live person sits on each train and announces destinations and makes other pertinent announcements.  The people are friendly enough for the city, and we’ve never met someone we were uncomfortable riding with on the train.

Anyway, we checked into the Hyatt and immediately turned around and went back past the airport Metro Station to the King St. Station where my Mom’s cousin and her husband picked us up and took us to eat in Old Town Alexandria.  This district is amazing.  Numerous restaurants, shops, historic houses and townhomes, office buildings, etc. inhabit blocks and blocks of historical brick buildings that have been renovated.  I’m pretty sure I couldn’t afford to live in the area, but the restaurants are relatively inexpensive and good.  The last time we visited, my cousin took us to lunch at one of the oldest buildings in the district that used to serve as a social hall.  George Washington had actually attended social events in this building!  This time we went to Union Street Public House.  The trout was delicious!

After a long day of traveling, we were ready to head back to the hotel and get some sleep.  Thursday morning, Brad rose early and did his usual jog around the Mall between the United States Capital and Lincoln Memorial.  Needless to say, it was cold.  I got up and went to the 7 am breakfast at Grassroots and met some other component leaders from the Central States region.  Brandon Dake, our chapter president-elect, and I left for our visit with Representative Roy Blunt at 8:15 am.  We took the Metro to the South Capital station and walked the rest of the way to the Rayburn Building.  Every Federal Building in DC requires that you go through security now in order to enter.  Luckily it’s not as bad as the airports, so we didn’t have to take off our shoes.  You do have to take off coats and put everything you’re carrying through the xray machine.

The Rayburn Building has a huge number of occupants and of course we got a little bit lost finding Representative Blunt’s office, but we made it on time for our 9 am appointment.  We were immediately greeted by Rep. Blunt’s staff member who sat down with us and asked us numerous questions.  Brandon and I had a list of issues that we were given by the AIA to present to the representatives and senators.  They also gave us a large “blueprint” of issues that we left for everyone we met with.  After a few minutes, Rep. Blunt joined us also.  I met with Rep. Blunt last year during our Capital Hill visits and he is always willing to sit and listen to our concerns and issues.  I can’t remember everything we discussed, but I felt like he sincerely listened.  I had also brought along some letters that members of our chapter had written to Rep. Blunt, telling him of how bad the situation is for the profession and that we hope that congress will do something to help ease the lending restrictions that are preventing people from getting loans for construction projects.  In no time at all, our meeting was over and we were headed out the door.

Check back next week for Part II of my Washington DC trip (including some cool photos of DC during the snowstorm)!