By Rep. Mike Sanders
Anyone trying to visit the Capitol this summer has figured out lawmakers are temporarily displaced from their offices while construction crews work on the House side of the overall Capitol Reconstruction Project. For the interim, we are in offices at the State Department of Agriculture.
About 60 percent of the Capitol is under construction with more than 300 construction workers on site daily.
The top-to-bottom Capitol Restoration Project started in 2015 after the state Legislature voted and then-Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law measures to provide funding for the project. The projected budget for the restoration at this moment is $248.4 million. The Legislature authorized bonds totaling $245 million, but the premium on the bonds has been earning interest that can also be used on the project, and the last bond issue has not gone for bid yet, so the total could increase. The entire restoration is due for completion by 2022.
The Oklahoma Capitol is home to all three branches of state government and vast collections of priceless state art. In addition to lawmaking, the Capitol is used by many groups and individuals for events, meetings, even weddings. It is also one of the most visited sites in the state.
The structure was built between 1914 and 1917. After a century of heavy use, harsh Oklahoma weather and inconsistent maintenance and preservation efforts, the building’s mechanical systems were failing and its exterior façade was crumbling, so it was necessary to undertake restoration.
Oklahomans deserve a beautiful People’s House to visit, to showcase to out-of-state visitors and where the business of state government is conducted. That being said, it is important we ensure this work is done with the utmost efficiency and as cost-effectively as possible. I have worked diligently as a lawmaker to ensure this.
Crews have been working year-round at the Capitol to complete this project, but work slows during the legislative sessions when lawmakers, their staffs and many visitors fill the Capitol during the week. During the interims, crews increase the pace of their work and actually take over many of the spaces devoted to lawmakers, such as offices, the legislative chambers and the rotundas.
This interim, crews are working on the House – or the west side – of the Capitol, reconfiguring and updating offices, the House chamber and the rotundas on the first, second and fourth floors. Construction crews also are redoing the governor’s and the lieutenant governor’s office suites as well as some offices on the Senate side, the courtroom where the Supreme Court formerly heard cases, the treasurer’s office suite and the roof.
Crews are updating plumbing, adding air conditioning to the rotundas, repairing the east tunnel, removing asbestos and lead paint, and adding fire sprinklers throughout the building. They also are adding touchscreen monitors throughout the building to help visitors navigate through the building.
The Capitol visitor’s center in May was moved from the first floor on the south side of the Capitol to its permanent location on the ground floor on the east side. Eventually, a new visitors entrance will open on the southeast corner of the Capitol routing visitors into this new ground-floor area.
In early June, crews closed off the Capitol rotundas and erected scaffolding to begin the work of repairing and painting the historic plaster walls and ornamental features. Additionally, they are repairing and polishing the marble floors and marble wall bases in these areas. The second-floor rotunda will be completed and open in time for the opening day of the 2020 legislative session. The fourth-floor rotunda is scheduled to be complete in November 2020. The first-floor rotunda will be complete in December 2020.
Visitors to the Capitol this summer may be disappointed they aren’t getting to see the artwork or many of the features of the Peoples’ House, but they can at least view the construction through windows placed into the temporary construction walls.
This work has caused quite a bit of inconvenience to myself and other lawmakers as well as visitors this summer, but I’m trusting the finished product will be worth it.
I can’t wait until my office is done and you can once again visit me at the Capitol. Until then, if I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 firstname.lastname@example.org.