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 The nearly 100-year-old building's plumbing and electrical systems are outdated, the building's manager says.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 mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: September 25, 2012
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Mark Tygret, director of the House fiscal division, said lawmakers could fund the Capitol repairs on a pay-as-you go basis by using growth revenue or reducing other expenditures. Or lawmakers could consider tapping the Rainy Day Fund, which has $577.5 million. Legislators may use 25 percent of the fund for emergency purposes, and 25 percent is $144.4 million.

Rep. Harold Wright, who requested Tuesday's study on the Capitol's conditions, said he likes the idea of using some of the Rainy Day Fund money for Capitol repairs, along with other available funds.

“I'd like to see it paid for over a period of time rather than a bond issue,” said Wright, R-Weatherford, who was one of 77 House members who voted down this year's $200 million bond issue.

Tygret said interest rates are low. A $180 million bond issue could be paid off in 25 years, with the annual debt service estimated at $9.9 million.

Main priorities

Duane Mass, the Capitol's architect, said a key advantage of a bond issue is it assures completion of the project. He's worked on restoration projects for churches, schools, cities and counties, and priorities change, he said.

“Things start to fall off the wagon,” Mass said. “The fear would be it would not be carried all the way through.”

Mass said the two main priorities are repairing the building's exterior, which could cost $8 million to $10 million, and installing new plumbing. Sewage leaking from the basement into the ground is a health and safety issue for occupants of the building, he said.

Webb said the general interior — or the areas seen by the public — of the 400,000-square-foot building is in wonderful condition. There are minor cracks in the walls and floor, which some mistakenly have attributed to the addition of the Capitol dome in 2002.

“The building is plenty adequate to hold the dome. That's not what's causing the problems,” she said.

The plumbing system has never had a complete restoration, Webb said. Several different piping types are being used together, and repairs are difficult because of the deterioration of the original pipes. Several plumbing lines have deteriorated to the point they are leaking effluent into walls.

The electrical system has been modified several times, but many of the electrical systems do not meet current safety codes, she said.

Covered scaffolding has been in place for the past year on the southeast entrance of the Capitol to protect those entering and leaving the building from falling pieces of limestone. Cautionary yellow fencing also is in place along the south steps of the Capitol. Those entering the building on the southeast side must use the handicapped entrance and walk under scaffolding.

The precautionary steps were taken after an engineering firm found damage to the building's exterior limestone panels on the southeast and southwest sides. Damage also exists in other parts of the building's exterior.