The Oklahoma State Capitol is a treasured historical building, revered for its beautiful finishes, carved limestone façade, magnificent legislative chambers, and unique art collection. It is the symbol of a resilient and hearty people who faced great challenge and hardship to settle this wild frontier territory.
Unfortunately, the building has endured nearly a century of Oklahoma’s harsh, unforgiving climate. It has millions of dollars in deferred maintenance. Without major repair and restoration, we risk losing our Capitol to the unrelenting march of time. This year, Preservation Oklahoma recognized this fact and placed the Capitol on its Most Endangered Historic Places list.
Indeed, pieces of our history are endangered at our Capitol. The beautiful grand entrance atop the building’s south staircase has been closed for years, largely due to safety concerns. Timeless decorative features, such as the griffins, intricate stone carvings and ornamental iron windows, are deteriorating. Water seeps behind the masonry causing chunks of hundred-year-old limestone and granite to crack and crumble.
The good news is we can save these endangered pieces of our history and efforts are underway now to do just that.
In May, the Legislature and Governor Mary Fallin enacted legislation authorizing up to $120 million for the “renovation, repair, and remodeling of the State Capitol Building.” Never, in the history of our Capitol, has this much money been dedicated to a restoration and preservation effort. An investment of this magnitude by the Legislature shows that their constituents find this to be a worthy use of taxpayer funds.
The legislation authorizes the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to begin repairing the exterior while tasking the State Capitol Repair Expenditure Oversight Committee with determining the scope of work for the interior. At OMES, our pledge to taxpayers is to use a transparent, sound restoration process that makes efficient, effective use of available funds while maintaining the historic integrity of the building and preparing it for another century of service.
Much has already been done in preparation for the restoration. Last month, OMES, in conjunction with Capitol architect Duane Mass, hired world-renowned architecture and engineering firm Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates (WJE) to inspect the façade and provide guidance on the repair strategy. OMES has also started the process of selecting a qualified contractor for the exterior work. A publicly-bid contract should be awarded by the end of the year, which would allow exterior restoration to tentatively begin in February 2015. The interior oversight committee held its first meeting on September 4, and learned about the condition of the building and challenges encountered in historic preservation projects. Over the next several months, the committee will determine the scope of the interior restoration and develop qualifications for the contractor selected to do the job. It will be many years before the project is complete, but when it is, the Capitol will be preserved so our children and grandchildren can walk its halls, marvel at its beauty, and engage their government – just as we have – for generations to come.
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