Last Thursday, members of the project team and legislators had the honor of visiting with the Architect of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.  The purpose of the trip was to learn how we might be better stewards of the Oklahoma Capitol after the restoration project is complete.  The team also sought to understand how they tackle complex projects such as the current restoration of the U.S. Capitol dome and the upcoming $750 million restoration of the Cannon House Office Building.

The first item on the agenda for our team was a tour of the new Visitor’s Center at the U.S. Capitol and the capitol itself.  We learned that the visitor’s center serves multiple functions.  The center is a place for visitors to learn about the capitol while waiting for their official tour.  They can go through the exhibit space, have a meal in the cafeteria, or peruse the gift shop.  The designers consulted with officials at the Disney theme parks to help them understand how to have people “wait without feeling like they’re waiting.”  Before the visitor’s center was completed, people had to queue outside, sometimes in harsh weather, before they could get into the building, not unlike busy times at the Oklahoma Capitol.  That is no longer the case.

Another feature of the visitor’s center is the security component.  Visitors now have one entry point into the building.  This feature alone helps officials to manage the person-load inside and allows security to concentrate its resources there, instead of worrying about multiple access points.  Even though the visitor’s center is underground by design, it was built with numerous skylights which definitely help to avoid the “basement” feeling.  Other security features are prevalent throughout the center, but they are subtle and the casual observer would hardly notice.

During the afternoon, the group had a Q&A session with the Stephen Ayers, the U.S. Capitol Architect, and members of his staff.  We asked questions on numerous topics ranging from strategy of working with congressional oversight to design standards for spaces in the buildings they manage to techniques for managing maintenance and grounds on the sprawling campus.  Mr. Ayers was happy to answer all of our questions and welcomed us to follow up with him if we had additional questions after our departure.

The current condition of the Oklahoma State Capitol can partially be blamed on the management structure of the building. With three branches of government and eighteen agencies and boards with some form of operational control, there is no strategic or comprehensive management plan for the building as a whole. The State Capitol is a patchwork quilt of electrical, mechanical, security, and other essential systems that do not integrate with each other. Furthermore, the Capitol lacks consistency of design and décor, essential to the long-term preservation of this historic and irreplaceable treasure. Over time, this fractured management model has led to poor decisions in maintenance and upkeep of the facility.

Speaker Hickman and Pro Tem Bingman understand that a better way is necessary in the future.  To that end, they have jointly sponsored an interim study on best practices of capitol management.  Through the interim study, they hope to learn how the building might be managed in a holistic way, while giving voice to the various elected officials, agencies, and branches of government which are tenants.  The capitol restoration project team along with our elected officials are dedicated not only to fixing the current problems with the capitol, but also to devising solutions to ensure it never gets into this situation again.

More Information:

Learn more about the Architect of the U.S. Capitol.

Recent Washington Post article about the after-hours shift at the U.S. Capitol.

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