One of the state's most recognizable structures — the state Capitol — was named Wednesday as one of Oklahoma's most endangered historic places.
“It is time to act now to fix the Capitol,” Gov. Mary Fallin told members of Preservation Oklahoma Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Oklahoma's historic and cultural landmarks. “It is important that we maintain the Capitol. We can no longer let the Capitol go in disrepair and need.
“It's the face of Oklahoma,” she said. “When someone walks up to this beautiful, historic building, this is the image that we give of the state of Oklahoma.”
Fallin said she is concerned about safety issues in the nearly 100-year-old, crumbling building. Much of the electrical wiring is outdated and the plumbing system is failing. Pieces of limestone have fallen from the building's exterior and raw sewage leaks into the basement.
As many as 700 people work in the Capitol during the four-month legislative session.
Covered scaffolding has been in place since September 2011 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.
“Having the barricades and the cones outside and the yellow plastic fence is not one of my favorite sights,” Fallin said. “I hate that for our state because when people come to visit to Oklahoma they come by our Capitol and wonder what's going on.”
The precautionary steps were taken after an engineering firm found damage to the building's exterior limestone panels on the southeast and southwest sides of the building. It's expected that the damage exists throughout the building.
The Capitol was completed in 1917 and was listed as a national landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. Next year marks the centennial of when the original cornerstone of granite was laid.
“The state Capitol is one of our most beautiful buildings in the state of Oklahoma,” Fallin said. “It's a living museum. It's the seat of our government.”
Fallin has 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'd like to get going immediately, at least on the outside,” she said. “I think there's general agreement here at the Capitol that the Legislature will take action to give some funding … because the longer we go the more it's going to cost the state of Oklahoma.”
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, believes the deterioration of the Capitol is a serious problem worthy of action without delay, his spokesman, Nathan Atkins, said later. He suggested at the end of last year's session an emergency appropriation to “finance initial repairs deemed to be those most critical and time sensitive.”
Bingman agrees with the governor to provide supplemental funds that can be used immediately to repair the Capitol's facade “so we can ensure visitors to our seat of government don't have to worry about getting hit with a piece of falling limestone,” Atkins said. “It's a public safety issue, and frankly, it's embarrassing.”
Bingman also supports using supplemental funds to develop a detailed engineering study of necessary repairs and line-item costs before starting other repairs, Atkins said.
Fallin said she is open to all options to repair the Capitol, but many legislators have expressed reluctance to seek a bond issue. Fallin last year supported a $200 million bond issue to repair and renovate the Capitol and other buildings in the Capitol complex; it was soundly defeated in the House of Representatives.
Sites on the list
This is the 20th year Preservation Oklahoma has put together a list of the state's most endangered historical places.
David Pettyjohn, executive director of the group, said Preservation Oklahoma's list is intended to make people aware of the deteriorating conditions of key historical sites across the state.
Other sites making the list are the Broadway Tower in Enid; the Edwards Store in Latimer County; Mummers Theater, or the Stage Center, in Oklahoma City; the Pocasset gymnasium; the Union Community Center of Stella in Newalla; the Tulsa Club; Route 66 bridges across the state; midcentury neighborhoods across the state; the Quanah Parker Star House in Cache; Citizens State Bank, or the Gold Dome, in Oklahoma City; and archeological sites across the state.
The Villa Teresa campus in Oklahoma City was placed on the group's watch list.