- Associated Press - Thursday, May 29, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma’s 100-year-old state Capitol will be getting a major face-lift under a bill signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin.

A top priority of the governor for the last several years, the resolution authorizes a 10-year, $120 million bond issue to pay for renovations to the building constructed between 1914 and 1917.

“The state Capitol is the seat of our government and an important symbol of Oklahoma,” Fallin said in a statement. “The disrepair it had fallen into was a black eye for the entire state.”

The interior of the 452,000-square-foot building features valuable artwork, polished marble floors and a massive dome that was added in 2002. But behind the walls are major problems that include a plumbing system with rotting pipes and a hodgepodge of electrical systems. There is also extensive cracking of the terrazzo floor in the building’s lower level.

“Time and decay have been eroding so many of this building’s critical components,” said Capitol architect Duane Mass. “We can now ensure a program to halt the damaging infiltration of water, evidenced by falling limestone and concrete, and to replace worn and faulty plumbing and 100-year-old wiring, which at any moment can place this critical structure out of service.”

The most notable sign of problems is a bright yellow barricade that prevents pedestrians from approaching the grand staircase on the south side, where chunks of limestone and mortar have fallen from the building’s facade.

Once bonds are sold after the bill takes effect on July 1, the first priority for repair will be the building’s exterior, said John Estus, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, the state agency tasked with overseeing the project.

“The exterior is crumbling so quickly that we can’t wait,” Estus said. “It’s not safe and needs to be fixed now.”

The exterior repairs could begin as early as the fall, and will be exempted from some of the more rigid planning requirements that will apply to the rest of the overhaul, Estus said.

“Inside, it’s a much more complicated process. We have architects and engineers that need to get in behind the walls and see what we’re dealing with,” Estus said. “There also are 700 employees who work in the building during session and 400 employees year-round. It’s possible that some people may have to be temporarily relocated.”

While Fallin and Republican leaders in the House and Senate all agreed the building needed to be repaired, they disagreed on how to fund it. A plan they finally approved in 2013 to divert income tax collections was shot down by the state Supreme Court because it was included in the same bill with an income tax cut, and the high court determined that it violated a constitutional requirement that bills deal only with one subject.

This year, House Democrats opposed the bond issue because they argued it was irresponsible for the state to go into debt at the same time legislators were cutting the state’s income tax.

“To tell the people of Oklahoma we can afford $266 million worth of tax cuts and then turn around and say we can’t afford $120 million worth of repairs without going into debt is hypocritical, and that’s the reason we did not support the bond proposal this year,” said House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Oklahoma City.

Many House Republicans who were hesitant to support a bond issue were placated by the shorter, 10-year term for the bonds and by the creation of a bipartisan panel to oversee the project that will include appointees of the governor, House speaker and Senate president pro tem.

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