Oklahoma’s crumbling Capitol has been neglected for so long that repairs inevitably will be extensive and costly. Many parts of the building are in decrepit condition.
We must fix it.
This building, more than any other, is irreplaceable to Oklahomans. It needs and deserves repair and restoration befitting of its stature as Oklahoma’s front door to the world.
The Capitol is Oklahoma’s second-largest tourist attraction, drawing tens of thousands of visitors yearly. As such, we need to update safety measures whenever possible.
Recognizing these concerns, the Legislature and I were pleased to authorize a $120 million bond issue last year to begin the first-ever comprehensive Capitol repair project. When I signed this measure, it was widely known that more money would be needed later but we had to start somewhere.
The focus today isn’t beautification, but fixing problems — and many of these problems aren’t new. Major infrastructure systems — like the backed-up sewer that sent an overwhelming sewage stench throughout the building as I arrived for the first day of session as a young legislator in 1993 — have needed replacement for decades.
Private contractors now have estimated it will take at least another $120 million to do the job right. This isn’t unexpected. In fact, providing this funding would still keep our total project cost below many major restorations completed recently at other state Capitols, some with costs exceeding $300 million. It also wouldn’t affect the state’s budget challenge because the money isn’t needed until 2018, when about 40 percent of the state’s bond principal comes off the books.
State officials are reviewing the contractors’ proposals — which total tens of thousands of pages — to determine if the cost figures and construction approaches are sound. When the Legislature convenes in February, we will know what finishing the job right entails.
The contractors performed thousands of man-hours of investigations to gain a deep understanding of the building’s challenges. With that review complete, the full extent of the Capitol’s problems is now known for the first time.
To fix them, the contractors recommend three tiers of work. The most essential items are addressed in the first two.
Tier One is funded already with the $120 million authorized in 2014. It includes extensive repairs to the crumbling exterior, replacing the hub for the building’s failing plumbing, mechanical and electrical infrastructure systems, necessary public access improvements, excavation and reconstruction of the deteriorated basement, elevator replacement, addition of fire sprinklers the building lacks, and other critical fixes to the building itself. Tier One also prepares offices on upper floors to accommodate staff housed in the basement, which must be excavated to perform infrastructure upgrades. No other tenant space — including offices for the building’s many elected officials and agencies — would be touched in Tier One.
The contractors’ proposed Tier Two funding, which is not secured yet, would connect the new infrastructure to tenant spaces in all wings of the building, finish repairs to windows and other exterior components to make the building water tight, repair the roof, add stairwells for security and safety, fix the leaking east tunnel, and restore all tenant spaces, among other things.
The contractors believe Tiers One and Two effectively fix the building and prepare it for many more decades of service.
Contractors proposed a third tier of funding that goes beyond the building to enhance the grounds, although parts of this proposal are meant to make the Capitol a safer place.
A proposed parking garage connected via tunnel to a secure public entrance would alleviate the Capitol’s visitor safety and access problems. I believe this ought to be considered for the public’s safety and convenience.
We want to ensure visitors, especially our children, will be safe when they come to the Capitol.
The contractors also envision a reflecting pool and archway on the south lawn that, while beautiful and inspired by Capitol architect Solomon Layton’s original designs from 100 years ago, are not critical priorities. These items, if ever pursued, would be funded by private donations, just like those used to build the dome a decade ago.
With preliminary funding in place and excellent options to consider going forward to fix our Capitol, preserving this building for future generations of Oklahomans is finally the priority it needs to be after many years of waiting.
Mary Fallin, a Republican, is the governor of Oklahoma.