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Oklahoma legislators discuss plans to repair crumbling state Capitol

A House committee talks about the possibility of tapping into the state's Rainy Day Fund to pay for some of the estimated $153 million in repairs and restoration. The nearly 100-year-old building's plumbing and electrical systems are outdated, the building's manager says.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: September 25, 2012

From the state Capitol's “dungeon” — where sunlight seeps in through crevices in the granite stairwell above it and not far from where raw effluent from the building seeps — to the roof, where nearly one-third of its copper covering needs to be replaced, Doug Kellogg pointed out numerous problems Tuesday with the nearly 100-year-old structure.

Kellogg, the building manager for the Capitol, said the building is in good shape structurally, but its plumbing and electrical systems are in desperate need of repair.

Kellogg led an hourlong tour of closets and other areas out of public view, pointing out corroded pipes and outdated electrical wiring, as well as flaking limestone from the building's exterior, mostly on its south side where yellow barricades have been put up for the past year to protect the south plaza from falling pieces of stone.

In the basement area known as the “dungeon,” an area under the granite stairs north of the west entrance, rainwater pours in and causes mold and mildew problems, he said.

How to pay for repairs?

The tour was given after members of the House of Representatives Appropriations and Budget Committee discussed the building's condition and possible ways to pay for repairs and renovation.

Everyone seemed to agree repairs are necessary for the Capitol, which was opened in 1917. But finding a way to pay the bill remains uncertain, although at least one legislator said it may be time to tap into the state's savings account, the Rainy Day Fund, to pay at least some of the repairs.

House Republicans have been squeamish about passing bond issues the past couple years. The House in the last week of this year's session defeated a measure that would have authorized a $200 million bond issue; $160 million was earmarked to repair and renovate the Capitol. The bill failed 77-15.

Republicans controlled the House 67-31 at the time of the May 23 vote, and many were concerned about being looked upon as not being fiscal conservatives if they voted for the bond issue, especially in an election year.

At the same time House members were sinking the bond proposal, Kellogg and his workers were trying feverishly to repair a leaking water pipe on the building's third floor.

Rep. Earl Sears, the committee's chairman, said he is considering a bill that would let voters decide whether the state should issue bonds to pay for Capitol repairs. But if lawmakers would pass the measure next year, the earliest it could get on the ballot would be November 2014.

“It's not a good option, but we're in an environment of ‘don't pass bond proposals,'” said Sears, R-Bartlesville.

Dana Webb, with the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which among other things oversees the Capitol's maintenance and repairs, said another option to pay for improvements would call for lawmakers to appropriate money over a four-year period.

Total costs to repair and renovate the Capitol are estimated at $153 million, Webb said. Lawmakers could appropriate $38.2 million annually for four years. A downside would be making sure the funding is in place for each of the four years.

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