The State Capitol Restoration Project has proceeded at a furious pace throughout the summer and into the fall.  Both our interior and exterior construction teams have compressed an incredible amount of work into a very short time frame.  I’m continually amazed at the caliber of individuals working on this historic project, both from the vendor and state perspectives.  Everyone realizes the immense honor it is to work on the building that Dr. Bob Blackburn at the Oklahoma History Center has christened as “Artifact Number One.”

Exterior Project

Throughout the Capitol building, but particularly on the exterior, we are fighting a battle against previous sub-par repairs.  The mortar joints were re-pointed in the past, but the wrong type of mortar was used and the joints were not filled at a proper depth.  Predictably, the poor re-pointing effort did not stop water infiltration, so a cement-like coating was haphazardly spread over all the joints.  Once again, that did nothing to solve the problem and the building was sprayed with a silicone-based sealer, which is not recommended for  limestone.

Since May, the exterior team has been engaged in the trial repair phase.  Our goal is to correct the previous sins perpetrated against the building while ensuring the repairs we initiate as a part of this project have a lasting impact.  To that end, we have ground out mortar joints and installed various types of new mortar.  We are monitoring the new mortar to see how it interacts with the building and the elements.  We have engaged in cleaning trials to determine how various methods and cleaners work on biological and chemically-based stains.  One such trial was our laser cleaning demonstration earlier in the summer. We also cut inspection openings in the building to determine the cause of cracks in the limestone.

A great deal of time in this trial repair phase has been spent investigating the windows.  The windows are made of cast iron and have suffered under the harsh impact of Oklahoma’s summers and winters over the past 98 years.  They pose a particular challenge because their frames are mortared into the structure of the building.  The team is currently evaluating methods for restoring the windows.

Finally, our trial repair work has not been solely confined to the building’s skin.  A few weeks ago, the team dug a large hole near one of the light well walls on the north side of the Capitol.  The hole allowed engineers to study the stability and condition of the light well.  Another hole was recently dug near the southeast corner of the building to uncover the tunnel and allow engineers to inspect its condition.  The tunnel leaks routinely during rainy seasons.  This past spring, a video shot by OMES Director Preston Doerflinger of water pouring into the tunnel gained a great deal of publicity on local news stations.

Interior Project

With the approval of the project scope and phasing plan by the State Capitol Repair Expenditure Oversight Committee earlier this year, the interior project team began work on the Prerequisite Phase of interior repairs.  With the goal of beginning work in the basement next spring, it was necessary to rehabilitate legislative staff space on the first and third floors of the Capitol in order to bring staffers out of that area.  On an accelerated timeline, the team finished drawings and logistical plans.

Demolition work kicked off in July.  Since then, construction crews and contractors have abated asbestos materials in the areas and finished framing work.  Currently, duct work is being installed and sheetrock is going up. Throughout the process, the team has uncovered a wealth of original historic material that had been hidden over the years.  Beautiful barrel-vaulted plaster ceilings were revealed above acoustic ceiling tiles.  Carpet and tile was pulled up to reveal original marble floors.  Corridors which had been obstructed with build-outs were peeled back to their original dimensions.  The project team is working to restore all of these unique facets of the building.  In a sense, these initial areas under construction have become laboratories for determining how these and similar elements can be restored throughout the rest of the Capitol.

Looking Ahead

Over the next few weeks, the scaffolding used in trial repairs will be dismantled.  OMES will approve a project scope for the $25 million in funding devoted to the exterior.  Once that occurs, the project will go into the design phase.  Late next spring, a large section of the building will be wrapped in scaffolding and work in earnest on the exterior will begin.

On the interior, the areas in the building currently under construction will be completed in mid-January.  This will allow legislative staff time to get moved into their offices by the start of the legislative session in February.  Construction activities in the basement will begin in the spring.

In the December meeting of the State Capitol Repair Expenditure Oversight Committee, the master plan for the State Capitol Restoration Project will be presented.  The scope of work for current funding parameters under the $120 million bond authorization will be discussed along with items that most likely cannot not be addressed under current limitations.

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