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Capitol Insider: The People's House Gets A Facelift

Restoration work is ongoing at the Oklahoma state capitol.


Recently, project manager Trait Thompson led KGOU’s Dick Pryor and eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley on a tour of the building.

Trait Thompson: We're going to step into the construction area. Anywhere in the capitol where you step through a set of blue doors you know you're going from a common area into a construction area in the building. So we have on our hats and our vests and our safety glasses to make sure that we're all properly protected in case anything should happen down here.

What you see here now is a beautiful wide corridor that we're in the process of constructing. You see the ceilings have been brought to the height of the deck which is about 14 feet. And the noise that you can hear in the background is people doing sheet rock work, people doing plumbing and piping work.

We are getting this corridor ready to open in January. This will be the first public area of the building that opens since we started the restoration project.


Dick Pryor: Trait, as someone who's spent some time here at the Capitol, this is unrecognizable. It looks so much different than it ever has before.

Thompson: Well, thank you. That's one of the exciting things about this capitol building. For those people who have been in the basement of the Capitol, it's a narrow maze of hallways with low ceilings and a lot of times it was just used for storage purposes. Some agencies were down here but it was never a great space in the building. And from now on this will be primary public space in the building. When a visitor comes in here, they're going to get a great first impression of Oklahoma.

Shawn Ashley: So this is hundred year old concrete?

Thompson: Yes, this is hundred year old concrete that we're standing on. Much of the concrete down here is original and was part of the original building. Most people don't know we do not have a steel steel frame infrastructure capitol building. This is a concrete frame infrastructure building.


The first concrete structural building in the entire world was built in 1903 and in the United States and it was Harvard's football stadium. Now we’re using structural concrete all over the place. I’ve heard that, for a while, [this capitol building] was the largest concrete structural building in the world for a time.


Ashley: What's that smell?


Thompson: Probably the most asked question I get in my job is “what's that smell?” Because there are a lot of smells when you're doing a construction project. This particular smell we smell today is a coating that we just put on the floor in the new electrical room.


When you see this red stained concrete--not only in the basement but all over the building--you know you're looking at original concrete. Fun fact, for most people who don't know, the House and Senate chamber did not have carpet in it and it did not have marble in it.

If you would have been here in 1917, they met on red stained concrete just like this here. So we're paying homage to that of sorts. And so in some of our work areas we're putting in an epoxy on the floors and it's going to be a red stained epoxy so we can pay proper homage to the red stained concrete here.

Thompson: Now we're on our way outside. We're going to get on top of the scaffolding and climb some scaffolding and see our exterior restoration project.


We're standing up here at the top level of the scaffolding on the capitol building. You can tell the difference up here. You can see the difference between the clean stone and just go right around the corner and you can see the difference in the stone that hasn't been cleaned yet.


Up here, we’re replacing the copper guttering. So originally there was copper guttering up here, but over time it had failed and they put an asphalt in here and it was completely messed up.


So now we're replacing it with brand new copper guttering. We do water tests to make sure that it's draining appropriately and it's going to finally act the way it should act after all these years.

Pryor: Trait Thompson, thanks for the tour.


Thompson: I appreciate you guys coming out to see the work that we're doing out here on behalf of the people of Oklahoma. And I hope everyone's proud of this work because it really is an extraordinary thing we get to do out here.


Claire has previously worked at KGOU, where she helped create a podcast, How Curious, and hosted local news during Morning Edition. Previously, she was an intern on the city desk at WBEZ in Chicago. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School. Claire has reported on street performers, temp workers, criminal court cases, police dogs, Christmas tree recycling and more.
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