OKLAHOMA CITY — Bright yellow barricades that prevent pedestrian traffic in front of Oklahoma’s Capitol are just the most obvious indication that major repairs are needed on the nearly 100-year-old building, the state’s Capitol architect told lawmakers Tuesday.
Architect Duane Mass and other state officials took members of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee on a tour of areas of the building outside the public’s view that revealed rotting pipes, crumbling walls and a patchwork of disorganized repairs.
Mass estimated the necessary repairs at about $153 million, a price tag that will be difficult to foot with an increasingly conservative Legislature that has shown its distaste for issuing state bonds to pay for projects. A last-minute proposal for a $200 million bond package at the end of last session received just 15 votes in the 101-member House.
“I’m really concerned about the future of this building,” said state Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, who requested Tuesday’s interim study. “It’s a disgrace, quite frankly, for people to come to this building and see that scaffolding out there.”
The 400,000-square-foot building was built between 1914 and 1917. A dome added to the Capitol was completed in 2002.
Mass said his most pressing concern is repairing the building’s exterior facade, where he said a faulty repair job in the 1970s resulted in cracked limestone panels and falling pieces of rock and mortar. The faulty repair involved sandblasting the limestone, which made it more porous, and the use of the wrong mortar, which didn’t allow the limestone to naturally expand, Mass said.
“We’ll probably only have to replace about 5 percent of the stone,” Mass said. “We will be able to make this look like a brand-new penny on the outside.”
Falling debris, including some pieces as large as a baseball, prompted state officials to block access to the front of the building and erect scaffolding under which visitors must walk to enter the Capitol from the south.
Dana Webb, a policy analyst for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, said that inside the building, the marble floors, artwork and other things people see are in “wonderful condition.” But she said that behind the walls, there are major problems, including a plumbing system that has never been completely restored, a hodgepodge of electrical arrangements and outdated safety systems.
Another problem is that dozens of remodels in recent years haven’t had any standardized oversight, she said. As a result, many of the buildings’ original components have been covered up with dropped ceilings, new walls or paneling.
“A unified, comprehensive operations and management structure is imperative for long-term preservation,” she said.
Lawmakers also discussed a variety of funding options for the needed repairs. Mark Tygret, House fiscal director, said lawmakers could consider a pay-as-you-go option, which would require an annual appropriation of about $35 million to $40 million over four years. That money could come from growth revenue, reductions in other expenditures, or some combination of both, Tygret said.
Tygret said lawmakers also could tap 25 percent of the state’s rainy day fund with a two-thirds vote from both the House and Senate, which would amount to about $144.4 million. Other options include a bond issue or money from the sale of state assets.
Both Gov. Mary Fallin and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman have indicated that repairing the Capitol building is a top priority. Fallin proposed a $50 million bond issue in her executive budget earlier this year, while Bingman late last session proposed a $20 million appropriation to begin repairs.