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Repairs Continue on the Crumbling Capitol
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - It took three years and $1.5 million to build Oklahoma's Capitol building a century ago. It will take at least six years and as much as $245 million to prepare the building for its next 100 years.
Plans and design work to repair and renovate the 452,000-square-foot building are almost complete and, beginning this summer, workers in hardhats will be as common in and around the historic building as lawmakers in suits and tourists in sportswear as work begins on an extensive project to restore and update the structure.
Construction crews will hit all corners of the six-level structure, from the depths of its basement - with its chipped and buckling terrazzo floor - to the top of its stately dome that was completed in 2002 - 85 years after the building was occupied.
"Every square inch of this building needs to be touched at some point," said Trait Thompson, Capitol project manager for the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
Inside and out, workers will repair and replace the Capitol building's aging infrastructure - updating plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems according to highly detailed plans and specifications drawn up by a team of experts who have spent 8,000 hours assessing the current state of the structure, Thompson said.
"We don't want to do a project halfway. We want to do it right," he said.
Throughout the project, the Capitol will remain open and continue to function as the seat of state government, an office building for hundreds of state workers and a tourist attraction visited by thousands of people each year.
"There's going to be noise. There's going to be dust. There's going to be inconvenience," Thompson said. But project organizers estimate keeping the building open and functioning during the repairs will save $7 million in relocations costs.
Construction of the state Capitol was launched July 20, 1914, when Oklahoma's second governor, Lee Cruce, used a pick axe to break ground during a ceremony that historical photos show was attended by hundreds of people, some of whom traveled to the site in horse-drawn carriages.
The reinforced-concrete building was occupied in June 1917, just two months after the United States declared war on Germany and entered World War I. A planned dome that was part of the Capitol's original design was shelved due to a lack of money and steel during the war.
"Running out of money is sort of the constant story of this building," Thompson said. "At no time in the Capitol's history has anything like this been attempted."
The rehabilitation project was formally launched almost two years ago following legislative passage of a $120 million bond issue dedicated to Capitol repairs and renovation. Legislation authorizing another $125 million for the project has been approved by the House and is pending in the Senate.
When she signed the bill authorizing the spending two years ago, Gov. Mary Fallin decried what had become of the building.
"The disrepair it had fallen into was a black eye for the entire state," she said then.
Beginning in July, between 30 and 40 workers are scheduled to begin repairing the Capitol's exterior and its 200,000 square feet of stone facade in a project expected to last more than three years.
"You'll see scaffolding go up," Thompson said. "Every stone is assigned a number. Every window is assigned a number."
The structure's exterior is composed mainly of white limestone from Indiana with a base of Oklahoma pink granite originally quarried from an area near Tishomingo known as the Ten-Acre Rock.
Since 2011, barricades have cordoned off the south side of the Capitol to prevent visitors from climbing the steps leading to the south portico after chunks of mortar and pieces of limestone began falling from the building facade.
During the project, 477 of the Capitol's 512 windows will be restored, 240 cracked and damaged stones will be repaired or replaced and 21 miles of mortar joints will be repaired, Thompson said. Interior renovations begin in September; workers will also install emergency power generators.
(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)