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February 21, 2014

Capitol could receive face lift

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s nearly 100-year-old Capitol could receive a $160 million face lift under a measure given final approved Thursday by the state Senate, but the financing method is expected to face resistance in the more conservative House.

The bill, approved on a 36-11 vote, authorizes a state bond issue to pay for the repairs. Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, who answered questions about the bill on the Senate floor, told his colleagues: “We can’t afford to wait any longer and let this building continue to crumble.”

Several Democrats questioned why Senate leaders didn’t consider tapping the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which currently has a balance of $535 million, but Treat said using bonds was “a fiscally responsible way to do it.”

Much of the opposition came from conservative Republicans, some of whom preferred sending the proposal to a statewide vote. But Gov. Mary Fallin, a longtime proponent of repairing the Capitol, praised Senate leaders for acting quickly to pass the plan.

“It’s our responsibility to maintain and preserve our seat of government,” Fallin said in a statement. “A bond issue is the best, most realistic option for restoring the People’s House.”

The most obvious sign of problems with the 400,000-square-foot building are yellow barricades erected in 2011, to prevent pedestrians from approaching the south side of the building where large chunks of limestone have been falling from the building’s facade. Capitol architect Duane Mass said pieces larger than a softball have fallen from the building.

Mass said rusting metal clips that hold the giant limestone panels in place, along with a faulty repair job in the 1970s, are responsible for the rock and mortar falling from the front of the building, which was constructed over three years from 1914 and 1917.

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