Gov. Mary Fallin said Thursday she will continue to pressure lawmakers to take steps to repair the state Capitol.
“What I want to do is get the Capitol fixed,” she told a gathering of members of the Oklahoma Press Association. “Because the longer we delay fixing the Capitol, the more it costs.”
Fallin told editors and publishers she is concerned about safety issues in the nearly 100-year-old building.
Many of them went on a tour of the Capitol where they were told that much of the electrical wiring is outdated and the plumbing system is failing.
“Sometimes you walk in the basement of the Capitol, you’ll smell sewer,” she said. “There are challenges with that leaking under the Capitol itself.”
Those attending a House of Representatives committee meeting this week had to evacuate a meeting room when smoke from an overheated air-conditioning fan drifted into the vents and filled an overflow room with smoke. While there was no fire and the incident was not directly related to the Capitol’s electrical wiring, it did show how easily lawmakers, workers and visitors could be trapped if a serious fire occurred.
As many as 700 people, which includes legislators, work in the Capitol during the four-month legislative session.
Fallin said after her speech that delaying repairs could result in a serious health or safety issue that could result in part of the building having to be closed.
“It would not be good to shut down the Capitol because it’s the seat of government; it’s the place of business for many different agencies government functions are run out of; and certainly the Legislature has to be in session,” she said. “But I would say that we’re putting ourselves at risk by not taking care of these issues if we should have a major hazard. If the sewer system should all of a sudden break down throughout the Capitol, that obviously would be a crisis that we would have to deal with, and it could be very disruptive to government.”
During her State of the State speech Monday to lawmakers that began this year’s session, Fallin proposed the Legislature appropriate $10 million immediately for the Capitol. She is seeking $8 million to repair the exterior of the Capitol and another $2 million to develop a plan to repair and renovate the rest of the building.
“I want to get this $2 million in-depth prioritization study done so we know what we’re dealing with, because we frankly don’t know,” Fallin said Thursday.
“As I told the legislators, I’ve given you a start,” she said. “Whatever the legislators can get to my desk I’m happy to look at and consider. But I’ve asked them please do something this year. This is my third year in office, and they’ve yet to send me anything to address the Capitol’s needs.”
Covered scaffolding has been in place since September on the southeast entrance of the Capitol to protect people from falling pieces of limestone. Those entering the building on the southeast side must use the handicapped entrance and walk under the 20-foot-long wood-covered scaffolding. Cautionary fencing also is in place along the south steps of the Capitol.
Fallin said she is open to all options, including a bond issue, but that she has heard the message from many legislators that they prefer using available cash to repair the building’s crumbling facade. Fallin last year supported a bond issue. A $200 million bond issue to repair and renovate the Capitol and other buildings in the Capitol complex was crushed in the House.
Preliminary estimates show it would cost $160 million to repair and renovate the structure. Many lawmakers said they would like to see a plan developed that would outline specific problems, a timetable and how to make the repairs without disrupting the work of legislators and other elected officials as well as agencies that are housed there. Renovation and repairs are expected to take four years or more.