Capitol Report, Wayne Greene: Capitol repair costs flunk smell test
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Sunday, February 10, 2013
2/10/13 at 5:38 AM
Gov. Mary Fallin says the state Capitol stinks.
Specifically, she says the state Capitol basement stinks because the building's aging sewer system is not up to its task.
"The Capitol is a symbol of our state, a place of business, a living museum that's dedicated to preserving Oklahoma's history, its literature and its art work," Fallin said in her State of the State speech last week. "And it's not right for our visitors to come to the Capitol and see construction cones and barriers outside, to have crumbling facades from the top and a faulty sewer system that stinks."
The most obvious and pressing problem for the building is its skin - the limestone exterior that has reportedly been flaking off for years.
To protect Capitol visitors from the possible falling chunks of the building, the state has built a maze of covered scaffolding to shelter the building's south entrance.
That's a great public relations move for the "Home Improvement" lobby.
For every legislator, reporter, lobbyist, bureaucrat or citizen walking in that door, the scaffolding - and the implied message that a chunk of the seat of state government might be about to crush them - is a pretty good motivator to get something done about the problem.
In Fallin's budget proposal she calls for spending $10 million immediately on the problem - $8 million to repair the exterior of the building and another $2 million to develop a plan to fix all the building's problems.
But that would just be a start, potentially.
Preliminary estimates have put that cost of such a comprehensive repair job at $160 million, which is the sort of money that gets the state bond boys very excited.
Imagine all the attorneys fees, underwriting fees and good old-fashioned interest that can be made on a state bond issue that big.
I'll admit I am a Capitol repair skeptic, especially when that $160 million figure gets thrown around.
I always wanted to get a forensic inspection of those fallen chunks of limestone to see if there are any bond underwriters' fingerprints on them.
State Auditor Gary Jones told me that $160 million buys a lot of skepticism from him, too.
When government gets involved in a big building project, it inevitably costs twice as much and takes twice as long as it should, he said.
Before the state gets sunk into a money pit, Jones suggests that we take some time to analyze what we want the building to do and how much it legitimately would cost to get there.
Here's a starter: We want walls that stay up and sewage that stays down.
But, he points out, we don't want a lot of whistles and frills, and when that bottom line is $160 million, it seems like there must be a whistle or two in there somewhere.
On this issue, Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon has reflected his caucus's caution when it comes to bond issues.
He has suggested that before state government runs into a debt-raising building spree, we get a handle on the real estate we already control - sell off some of it that's sitting idle and use that money to pay for the Capitol's most pressing construction needs.
You have to wonder if these ideas of fixing the building's most pressing needs - i.e., the rocks falling from the sky - with cash, not credit, will work against the dreams of a bond-fueled comprehensive repair.
No matter how much they hate government debt, an occasional hurtling chunk of facade tumbling from on high is going to get the attention of every legislator.
Take away that danger - take down the scaffolding - and you eliminate the pressing nature of the issue.
Then the only thing to motivate legislators to do something about the problem is the commonweal and that miasma Fallin says is polluting the Capitol basement.
Given the amount of actual and metaphorical egestion going on in the building, however, the danger seems just as present.
Original Print Headline: Capitol repair costs flunk smell test
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
Gov. Mary Fallin and Douglas Kellogg with the Office of Management and Enterprise Services tour deteriorating areas of the state Capitol on Jan. 17. DAVID MCDANIEL / The Oklahoman