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Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin makes push to repair crumbling state Capitol

Oklahoma's governor says it's time for lawmakers to “get serious” and come up with a plan to repair the nearly 100-year-old building.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: January 17, 2013 at 10:21 pm •  Published: January 18, 2013

Gov. Mary Fallin urged lawmakers Thursday to come up with a funding plan this year to repair and renovate the crumbling state Capitol.

“We need to have an open dialogue with our Legislature, with our other public officials about how we can begin the process of developing a strategic plan that all of us can support to repair the state Capitol,” she said. “It's time to get serious about repairing the state Capitol building.”

The Republican governor last year included $5 million in her budget proposal to legislators to pay for debt service associated with a bond issue to repair the Capitol. That would have supported a bond issue of about $50 million. Best estimates are it would cost about $160 million to repair and renovate the nearly 100-year-old building.

House Speaker T.W. Shannon said repairing the Capitol is a priority.

“I applaud the governor for once again bringing attention to the issue this legislative session,” said Shannon, R-Lawton. “Our options are to take on bonded debt, or a pay-as-you-go plan, but doing nothing is not an option. I believe the members of the House and the legislative leadership realize this is something that needs to be done, and there is the will to find a solution.”

A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said the Capitol's structural integrity issues are serious and growing more serious by the day.

“All options are on the table,” said Nathan Atkins, spokesman for Bingman, R-Sapulpa. “The pro tem believes it is very important for the Legislature to act in the interest of responsibly caring for taxpayer assets.”

Fallin invited the media on a tour of some of the more troublesome areas of the Capitol to highlight sewage, plumbing and electrical problems in the building.

Down in the ‘dungeon'

“Ooh, there's a big cockroach,” the governor said in the Capitol's “dungeon,” where sunlight peeks in through crevices in the granite stairwell above it on the north side of the west entrance and not far from where raw effluent from the building seeps into the ground.

About 450 people work in the Capitol for state agencies and legislators when lawmakers are not in session. The number balloons to about 700 during the four-month session.

“It's also a potential health factor to have mold in the Capitol, to have an old sewer system,” Fallin said. “We know that sewage does come up during different times. We smell it.”

The problems aren't new, Fallin said. She passed out copies of a newspaper article from 20 years ago in The Oklahoman about how fumes rising from a clogged sewer drain in the Capitol's basement caused a stinky start to the legislative session.

“Sewer gas!” Fallin, then a state representative from Oklahoma City, is quoted as saying in the article.

“We've known about this problem for a very long time,” she said Thursday. “We've got to get some guts and deal with the issue and take care of it.”

Doug Kellogg, 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.

Chunks of limestone are falling from the building's exterior. Yellow barricades and scaffolding were put up in September 2011.

Finding repair funds

Finding a way to pay for repairs to the Capitol, which was opened in 1917, remains uncertain. House Republicans have resisted passing bond issues the past couple of years. The House, in the last week of last 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 and the rest of the money was for repairing other buildings in the Capitol complex. The bill failed 77-15.

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