- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Authorizing an extra $125 million for Capitol renovations is a difficult vote to defend, given the bright yellow barriers and rusted, ramshackle scaffolding that greet visitors to Oklahoma’s seat of government, a state lawmaker said Thursday to a panel overseeing the project.

Now that lawmakers have authorized $245 million in total funding on repairs to the nearly 100-year-old building, Rep. Mark McBride said he expects to see work on the project beginning in earnest.

“We’re the ones who made the hard votes … when people in my district are asking why we’re spending this money on the Capitol while funding is being cut for schools,” said the Moore Republican who’s a member of the State Capitol Expenditure Oversight Committee. “If we don’t start work by July, I’m going to be ticked off.”

The Oklahoma Legislature authorized the money in two separate bond proposals - one for $120 million in 2014 and a second for $125 million this session, the latter while grappling with a $1.3 billion hole in the budget.

The committee also discussed what to do with some of the dozens of works in the Capitol art collection, which is valued at around $7 million.

Much of the time and money spent so far has gone toward a rigorous inspection of the building, including trial repairs to determine the appropriate materials to use, according to Josh Martin, vice president of JE Dunn Construction, the contractor selected for the exterior renovations. He said work on the exterior will begin in July.

“We couldn’t agree with you more. It’s time to get going,” Martin said. “We’re going to take this beautiful building and restore it to where it should be, and soon.”

So far, $54 million in bonds have been issued for the first phase of the project, Capitol project manager Trait Thompson said, and of that, $11.6 million has been spent, mostly on interior inspection, design and some initial construction on new House and Senate office space.

Eighty-eight separate works of art - mostly housed in the Capitol rotundas - will need to be moved during the first phase of construction, said Alan Atkinson, director of visual arts for the Oklahoma Arts Council. He suggested the committee approve moving and storing those pieces at an off-site location and reinstalling them when the work is completed.

But the panel voted to table a vote on that plan to give Atkinson time to explore other options, including the possibility of loaning pieces to museums around the state.

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Online:

Capitol Restoration Project: www.capitolrestore.ok.gov

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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