Misplaced priorities

Last year, two out-of-state private prison companies received a record $92.7 million from the state, The Oklahoman reported earlier this week. So far this year, the state has spent about $55 million in with two for-profit rent-a-cell firms. Since 2004, the state has paid roughly $975 million to Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America and Florida's GEO Group, Inc. Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

 (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File) ORG XMIT: TXBS201

OKLAHOMA CITY — Officials are looking north of the state line for guidance in making repairs to the Oklahoma statehouse.

Members and staff with the State Capitol Repair Expenditure Oversight Committee traveled to Topeka last month to take a look at the recently completed renovation project at the Kansas statehouse.

Oklahoma lawmakers last session approved up to $120 million in bonds to repair the Capitol, which is plagued by structural, electrical and plumbing problems. The project likely will cost more, officials have said.

The Kansas statehouse was facing “demolition by neglect,” said John Estus, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

The Kansas project took 14 years to complete at a cost of $322 million, said Barry Greis, statehouse architect with the office of facilities and procurement management in the Kansas Department of Administration.

The state issued bonds to complete the project, he said.

Kansas officials replaced lighting, carpeting and furniture, Greis said.

In addition, the basement was converted into usable office space, he said.

The project included replacing the copper dome and roof, and improvements to the plumbing, wiring and sewer lines, he said. In addition, officials added a 551-vehicle underground parking garage, he said.

Construction of the original facility began in 1866 and was completed in 1903.

“Back then, the Kansas Legislature voted to pay as you go,” Greis said. “They raised the money and had the resources to pay for the next phase and went forward.”

The renovation project in the current century also was done in phases.

“If we could have vacated the building, we would have completed it in four years and certainly saved some money,” Greis said.

Officials had to keep returning to the Legislature for additional funds as phases were completed, he said.

As officials began working on the renovations, they found additional problems.

“The most difficult part would be uncovering what we didn’t know because the original statehouse was built over a 37-year period with different architects, engineers and contractors involved,” Greis said.

Oklahoma officials learned a lot by making the trip, said Trait Thompson, state Capitol project manager.

“Any time we can learn from others who have gone before us, we can save money and time by not repeating mistakes,” he said. “There is no need to re-create the wheel on a project like this.”

Thompson said he is attempting to organize a trip to Kansas in November for Oklahoma lawmakers.

Oklahoma expects to complete its renovation project in four to six years, Thompson said.

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Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465

Barbara.Hoberock@tulsaworld.com

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