Work to repair the state Capitol's crumbling exterior could begin as early as late summer.
Gov. Mary Fallin has yet to sign House Bill 2032, which provides $120 million over the next two years for Capitol repairs, but discussions already are underway about how to get work started, said John Estus, spokesman for the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
The measure directs finance officials to allocate $60 million during the 2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1, into a newly established revolving account.
Estus said the agency will be able to seek bids to repair the nearly 100-year-old building's crumbling exterior. Pieces of limestone have been falling the past two years from the building's exterior.
Awarding the bids will have to wait until a newly formed commission is appointed and in place, he said.
“We'd like the new commission to have a say in this,” Estus said. “They will have jurisdiction over state buildings.”
The Office of Management and Enterprise Services has enough money to pay the costs of seeking a detailed engineering study of necessary repairs and line-item costs before starting other repairs to problems such as sewage leaking into the basement and outdated electrical wiring throughout the building, Estus said.
It's expected the study, which will determine the scope of repairs, time frame of construction and relocating workers, would be completed in the fall, he said.
“Our desire is to move swiftly but thoughtfully at the same time,” Estus said.
Fallin is expected this week to sign HB 1910, which creates a pay-as-you-go infrastructure plan for state buildings and properties. It also creates the Long-Range Capital Planning Commission, which first would address the repair of the Capitol. It later would develop an eight-year plan to address maintenance issues with other buildings and properties, with the intent to take care of repairs and maintenance without seeking a bond issue.
HB 1910 takes effect July 1, so official action on awarding bids for the exterior work would have to wait until after that, Estus said. It's been estimated the exterior work could cost about $8 million and would take several months.
Estus said the work could start either late summer or early fall.
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.
The precautionary steps were taken after an engineering firm found damage to the 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.
As many as 700 people work in the Capitol during the four-month legislative session.
HB 2032 cleared its last legislative hurdle last week, but got tied up when House members failed to pass an emergency clause, which would make the legislation take effect as soon as Fallin signed it.
Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, who presented the bill on the House floor, said he will try again this week to get the emergency clause passed. It requires two-thirds support, or 68 of the 101 members voting for it.
HB 2032 also contains the language for cutting the state's top personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent on Jan. 1, 2015.
Jerry Fent, an Oklahoma City attorney who has challenged the constitutionality of funding bills passed by lawmakers the past several years, said he will file a challenge with the state Supreme Court after Fallin signs it.
Fent said HB 2032 violates the Oklahoma Constitution, which requires bills to contain one subject.
Martin said both issues relate to the same topic of appropriating money.
Estus said work could continue on the Capitol project if a legal challenge is filed, unlike projects funded by bond issues. Financing of bond issues comes to a halt until the legal challenge is decided by the courts.