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Joint House/Senate meeting focused on best practices for preserving and maintaining a restored Capitol

Tom Fontana, Communications and Marketing Director for the United States Capitol Visitor Center and spokesperson for the Architect of the U.S. Capitol, addresses members of the Oklahoma Legislature. Photo Provided
Tom Fontana, Communications and Marketing Director for the United States Capitol Visitor Center and spokesperson for the Architect of the U.S. Capitol, addresses members of the Oklahoma Legislature. Photo Provided

Staff Report

OKLAHOMA CITY – House and Senate members met in the Oklahoma House Chamber to discuss best practices for current and future Capitol infrastructure management.

The interim study, requested by House Speaker Jeff Hickman and Senate President Pro-Tem Brian Bingman, focused on developing a management structure to care for and preserve the building to avoid the mistakes made during the last century since the Capitol was built and allowed to fall into disrepair.

In 2014, the Legislature authorized a $120 million bond issue to restore the Capitol Building, fix and replace aging electrical and plumbing service and repair the crumbling exterior.

In her 2014 State of the State address, Gov. Mary Fallin had blasted legislators for not acting on the Capitol maintenance issue previously.

Reflecting on the joint hearing early this month, Speaker Hickman said that the current management strategy for the Capitol is an inefficient piecemeal plan spread between nearly 20 different state entities that after decades resulted in the Capitol Building falling into disrepair almost to the point of condemnation. The unusual meeting was held November 5.

“Oklahoma needs a comprehensive, strategic plan that manages the Capitol in a way that makes maintenance more efficient and cost effective, and ensures, this beautiful gift from previous generations of Oklahomans will never again fall into such an embarrassing state of disrepair,” said Speaker Hickman, R-Fairview.

“Our Capitol belongs to the people of Oklahoma, and we have been entrusted to be good and faithful stewards of it for the short time we are honored to serve here. It is important to learn from the mistakes of this building’s first century so they aren’t repeated in its second and so taxpayers don’t find themselves in a similar situation in the future needing to spend millions more to once again save this building because it wasn’t cared for properly at a much lower cost.”

Lawmakers heard from Tom Fontana, communications and marketing director for the Office of the Architect of the U.S. Capitol, who addressed practices his office uses to maintain and manage more than 17 million square feet of building space and more than 550 acres of land on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Fontana gave lawmakers an overview of dozens of various construction and remodeling projects his office has managed during the last several years.

“The Capitol is not just the seat of state government – it is a symbol of what our state represents and it gives visitors a picture of our history and identity,” said Bingman, R-Sapulpa.

“It is critical that we have a plan to ensure that the restoration of this building is efficient and effective. Oklahoma taxpayers have invested significantly in this project and we have an obligation to ensure that their investment is managed with appropriate care. Today’s study will enable us to develop a more streamlined plan for managing the project.”

Other presenters included Nebraska’s Capitol Administrator, Robert Ripley, and John Sneed, Executive Director of the Texas State Preservation Board, who both gave an overview of recent Capitol construction projects in their respective states.

In addition, lawmakers heard from State Capitol Project Manager Trait Thompson from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), State Capitol Superintendent Doug Kellogg and representatives from Manhattan Construction, which has contracted to make interior repairs, and J.E. Dunn Construction, which has contracted to make exterior repairs.

Thompson told the lawmakers Oklahoma is unique in that it is one of the few states that doesn’t centralize its property management under one agency or preservation commission.

“The restoration of our Capitol in many cases is fixing symptoms of a larger problem with the building’s management structure, or lack thereof,” said Thompson.

“Having no comprehensive Capitol management structure has reduced consistency of design and created a patchwork quilt of electrical, mechanical, security and other essential systems that do not integrate with each other. Effective management structures are preventing ills like these in other capitols and this interim study is a great step forward in exploring how to bring similar concepts to Oklahoma.”

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