OKLAHOMA CITY — State officials previewed a $120 million renovation project for Oklahoma's aging Capitol building, with state Historical Society executive director Bob Blackburn holding the pick-ax Thursday that was used to break ground almost a century ago.
"The pick ax has come home," Blackburn said amid a display of photographs and artifacts from the Capitol's groundbreaking ceremony on July 20, 1914. Some photos showed Oklahoma's second governor, Lee Cruce, driving the tool into the ground.
After decades of deferred maintenance, needed repairs are expected to begin this year thanks to legislation signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin authorizing a $120 million bond issue.
"It is the seat of government. It is the people's house," Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger said. "We are finally able to approach the repairs. We're not going to shortchange the citizens of this state."
The 452,000-square-foot Capitol was constructed of reinforced concrete between 1914 and 1917 for just $1.5 million. But a century later, the building's facade is crumbling. Barricades have cordoned off the south side of the structure since 2011 to prevent visitors from climbing the steps of the south portico because chunks of mortar and pieces of limestone are falling.
Visitors also must walk beneath scaffolding topped with plywood to reach an entranceway on the building's southeast corner to avoid the falling debris. In May, a four-pound chunk of concrete crashed through an employee's office in the basement, an area that has since been evacuated.
"There's 100-year-old wiring in this building. There are cast iron pipes you can stick your finger through," Capitol architect Duane Mass said. "One hundred years later we start on another process."
Doerflinger said the renovation project is expected to last between four and six years. Work on the building's exterior is expected to begin at the end of this year, with interior work expected at the end of 2015.
Mass said officials overseeing the project will soon prepare the necessary documents to create teams of specialists that will submit proposals for performing the renovation work.
"On the interior there will be a long process of discovery," Mass said.
Legislation authorizing the bond issue will not go into effect until Aug. 22, 90 days after the Legislature adjourned. But authorities are planning to tap a construction fund that contains about $700,000 to pay for an investigation of the building's exterior to determine what repairs are immediately needed to the crumbling facade. Bond money will later be used to replenish the fund.
Initial plans call for the building to remain open during the lengthy renovation project.
"We cannot shut this building down," Mass said. "It has to be a modern, functioning office building."