WASHINGTON — The moment President Donald Trump left Washington aboard Air Force One on Friday, bound for the New Jersey golf course where he will spend his summer vacation, a White House employee switched off the air conditioning in the West Wing to turn the area officially into a construction zone.
By then, senior White House officials — including Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, top advisers, lawyers and spokespeople — had already cleared out to decamp to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door.
That French Second Empire-style building will be their temporary office while government workers undertake a major West Wing renovation — a roughly two-week, $3.4 million overhaul that includes replacing the air conditioning and heating system and installing new cables and wires, fresh paint and new carpets.
Mr. Trump’s departure from the steamy capital marked the start of the project, and a handy excuse for the president to escape northward to the relatively cooler temperatures of his Bedminster, N.J., property.
“I doubt that you would want to come to work on a hot summer day when the air conditioning wasn’t working,” Lindsay Walters, the deputy White House press secretary, said on Friday, as the temperature on the White House lawn reached 90 degrees.
Presidents routinely leave Washington during August for a couple of weeks of downtime with their families. Barack Obama favored Martha’s Vineyard, George W. Bush spent most of the month at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., and Bill Clinton visited both the Vineyard and the Hamptons.
The getaways often draw criticism from political opponents, particularly in the case of Mr. Trump, who had at first insisted that members of Congress — whom he savaged for failing to pass the health measure — sacrifice their own getaway for the sake of his agenda. (The House and Senate have since left town and won’t be back until after Labor Day.)
The Democratic National Committee issued a news release in the hours before Air Force One left Washington on Friday headlined “Trump’s Vacation Hypocrisy,” detailing years of criticism that Mr. Trump aimed at Mr. Obama for taking time off, and this statement from the president just two weeks ago: “Frankly, I don’t think we should leave town unless we have a health insurance plan.”
No such plan has been enacted. But a dodgy, decades-old White House air conditioning system waits for no president or piece of legislation, White House officials argue. In a statement, a spokesman for the General Services Administration, which oversees the renovation of government buildings, said the 27-year-old system that heats and cools the leader of the free world and his senior staff was “well past its life cycle and will fail in the near future without intervention.”
“We’re in a situation where it’s dire” Ms. Walters said of the heating and cooling systems, noting that given their constant usage, their functional age is 81 years old.
The administration is also using the time, she said, to make cosmetic improvements, including furniture upgrades. The South Portico steps will receive their first upgrade in 64 years, and the White House mess will get an overhaul.
The installation of new heating and air-conditioning systems was initially slated for 2014, but the General Services Administration didn’t deliver a plan for carrying it out until the spring of 2016. Faced with the prospect of a major renovation that could stretch into the fall of 2016, Mr. Obama’s team decided against starting the construction, opting instead to leave it to the next administration.
Built during the Theodore Roosevelt administration in 1902, the West Wing is about 30,000 square feet and houses the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room and the Situation Room. The White House press office and briefing room are also located there, as are the warrens of carrels and narrow booths that serve as work space for journalists who cover the president.
The briefing room and press work space are not expected to be affected by the construction. But starting this week, West Wing officials packed up their belongings for the move to the Eisenhower building, where they crowded into unfamiliar office suites and competed for limited conference room space in their makeshift home.
Assistant press secretaries are now seated shoulder-to-shoulder in the Cordell Hull Room, the same ornate pink-and-gold-hued space where Mr. Hull, then the secretary of state, received a telephone call from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 informing him of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Late this week, some White House officials wandered the vast halls, trying to locate unfamiliar temporary offices or searching for meetings in various conference rooms. One official remarked that the atmosphere was reminiscent of the first week after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, when nobody knew where anything was in the West Wing and computers and printers did not work.
Mr. Trump and his staff are not the first to vacate the White House for major repairs in the month of August. In 1994, Mr. Clinton and his family moved across Pennsylvania Avenue to Blair House, the presidential guesthouse, returning from a 12-day Martha’s Vineyard vacation to find that renovations of the White House residence were not complete. President Ronald Reagan arranged to have the plumbing in all of the bathrooms in the residence replaced while he and his wife were vacationing in California.
“These huge maintenance projects are not atypical,” said Betty Monkman, a White House curator from 1967 to 2002. “They don’t happen every year, but they do happen on a periodic basis because of the needs of an old building, and particularly in the West Wing, a very dense office space.”
This month, the major structural changes will be accompanied by cosmetic ones in part designed to place Mr. Trump’s stamp on a West Wing that retains the aesthetic and palette of his predecessor, including yellow-shaded carpets and walls.
Among the modifications Ms. Walters said to expect: “There will be no more yellow.”