- Associated Press - Monday, May 19, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Lawmakers unveiled a plan on Monday to issue up to $40 million in bonds to pay for the construction of a new building to house the state’s Veterans Affairs and mental health departments.

Budget committees in the House and Senate passed a bill that would authorize the 30-year bond issue for the facility. The Senate committee passed the bill 14-1, while the House panel approved it 19-6. The measure still must be approved by the full House and Senate and signed by the governor before it would take effect.

The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Mental Health and Substance and Abuse Services currently are housed in aging, dilapidated buildings that have been plagued with problems including electrical and plumbing issues and mold.

“Termites are falling from the third floor onto my employees’ desks,” said Terri White, commissioner of the mental health department.


The mental health agency’s headquarters are in a converted, 100-year-old school building on the northeast side of the medical center complex in Oklahoma City.

State Rep. Gary Banz, chairman of the House Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, said both the Veterans Affairs site, which was constructed in the 1920s, and the mental health building are “on the verge of being condemned.”

“Any time we have a good rain, they have to have people on duty to make sure the computer rooms don’t get flooded,” the Midwest City Republican said.

The new building would be on state property along Lincoln Boulevard, north of the Capitol.

Banz said the plan would not require any new appropriations, since two Veterans Affairs bond issues are set to expire in the next few years. He said land owned by both agencies, including a 600-acre tract near Talihina in southeast Oklahoma, would be sold to help offset construction costs.

“This is an issue we’ve been working on for several years,” Banz said. “It’s never made it this far in the process, frankly, because we’ve always had difficulty coming up with a way to pay for the bonds.”

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Online:

Senate Bill 3541: http://bit.ly/1vuGpaU

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy .