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Capitol Insider: State Capitol Restoration Nearing Completion

Oklahoma Capitol Restoration Project

The restoration team completed exterior work on the Oklahoma State Capitol in March, and now the Capitol Restoration Project is heading into its final phase. Begun in 2015, the extensive restoration is expected to conclude next summer, after adjournment of the 2021 legislative session, and be ready for official reopening in 2022. In this Capitol Insider segment Capitol Project Manager Trait Thompson discusses recent progress and what remains to be done as the Oklahoma legislature prepares to return for its 2021 session. 


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director, Shawn Ashley. And in what has become sort of a holiday tradition, our guest is Trait Thompson, capitol project manager for the Oklahoma Capital Restoration Project. Trait, thanks for joining us.

Trait Thompson:  Happy to be here. Thank you, Dick.

Shawn Ashley: Trait, capitol restoration work has continued despite limitations caused by the coronavirus over the last several months. How has that forced workers to adapt?

Trait Thompson: Yeah, you know, like every other project and every other workplace, corona has impacted us, too. When we first had a corona case in the capitol, we suspended operations for about three or four days, while OMES went about the process of sanitizing the entire building. After we came back, Manhattan Construction, our interior restoration company, put in new requirements for workers on the job site. All the workers had to go through temperature testing and had to fill out a questionnaire about if they've had any symptoms before they could come into the building. All of our workers are wearing masks on a daily basis now as they go about their job and OMES has put restrictions on the size of meetings. So, all of our meetings with the owner team and everybody else have really moved to zoom meetings. And, you know, we're doing the same things that other workplaces are trying to do and to make sure that we stay as safe as possible.

Dick Pryor: Trait, has coronavirus affected your schedule?

Trait Thompson: Not really. You know, like I said, we had that that three-day period where we had to suspend operations, but that that really didn't impact us too much. After the legislature went away in mid-March it actually helped us out a little bit because we were able to do some activities that would normally have to wait until after the legislative session. And the legislature leaving early in May, helped us to start in some areas like their legislative chambers and committee rooms earlier than we had anticipated. So, some of it has actually helped our schedule a bit. There really hasn't been an adverse impact to our schedule yet. There obviously have been a worker here or there that has been exposed to the virus and they have had to quarantined, but we haven't had any major, major groups of workers that have had to be absent and so it hasn't really impacted us in that way.

Shawn Ashley: Exterior work was completed in July and the new visitor's center opened in mid-September. Tell us about the new visitor center as people are coming back into the Capitol, perhaps for the first time.

Trait Thompson: One of the biggest issues that we had when we started this project is knowing that the main entrance that that beautiful second floor entrance to the portico couldn't really be the main entrance anymore, mostly because it's not ADA accessible.And so we started looking at what other capitals had done and other ways to bring people into the building.

When you look at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., they have a similar entrance to their building that we now have in our building. And this entrance helps us solve quite a few problems. A, it's a beautiful new front door for the building. So it's an impressive way for visitors to enter into the Oklahoma state capitol. But it's also very functional. Before people were coming in at a side door. Our chairman, Steve Mason, compared it to coming into someone's house through the garage. And I thought that was an apt comparison. It just wasn't a good way to enter the building.

Now, we've got plenty of room for people to queue up. If the weather's bad and there's a line to get into the building. We have room in our vestibule for a couple of hundred people to queue up in there. And we've got a beautiful new marble inlaid map of Oklahoma in the entrance area to greet people. The tunnel now connects to the main entrance, which it did not do before. And now we have an expanded security area with two processing stations. So on those busy days, we can get people in and through the Capitol much easier and quicker than we did before. So, we're really, really proud of this and this is a great new addition to the building.

Dick Pryor: Where does the work on the legislative chambers stand?

Trait Thompson: Because of the nature of the work, we weren't able to do all of the work in one legislative interim. You have to remember that the legislature is in session from February to May every year. So those are the times we can't work in the legislative areas. The nature of the work and the chambers was such that we didn't have enough time from the June to January time frame to get it done all in one fell swoop.
So, this interim we've been working in the ceiling and above ceiling spaces to get that ready. We've removed the large glass enclosures in the back of each chamber. We've installed new sprinkler systems. We have repaired the stained glass at the top. We've added brand new LED lighting, and then we've done the plaster and paint repair as well. Next legislative year and we will come back and finish the remainder of the work in the chambers.

Dick Pryor: So, legislators will be in the chambers for this session, but then you'll have a chance to finish up after they leave.

Trait Thompson: Absolutely. Organizational day is January the 5th. We'll be ready for legislators to come back in and do their work on that day. We won't quite be finished with all the touch ups to get ready for the session. So, we'll spend the rest of January getting ready. By the first Monday in February the chambers will be ready to go. Of course, it'll be a little bit disjointed in terms of the way that the paint looks, because part of them will have the old paint scheme, part the new paint scheme. But that really will be pretty much the only things that people notice. That's maybe a little off about those rooms.

Shawn Ashley:  Over the last several interims you've been playing sort of musical chairs, moving members around to renovate their offices. Is all the office renovation work now completed?

Trait Thompson: Yes, I'm happy to report that all of the legislative offices have been completed. Our last legislative offices to go were the Senate fifth floor north offices and those were completed back about a month or so ago. And those those members have moved back into those spots. We only had a little bit of work to do in the group 535 committee room, which was completed, as well. So, I'm happy to say that we are we are through with member offices.

Shawn Ashley: And that will be one thing this year that people will get to see are new committee rooms for the legislature.

Trait Thompson: Yes, those fourth and fifth floor south committee rooms are going to be complete by January the 21st for Room 450, which for capitol insiders was 432A. So, everyone's going to have to get used to the new numbering system. But that 450, which is the House Appropriations Committee room, will be finished by the end of December, first part of January. And we are ordering new furniture for those rooms.
We are…all of those rooms will be capable of doing video streaming, which is now so important in this era of Covid. You'll see modern AV systems in there. New sound system. So those rooms are going to have the look and feel of those classic conference rooms that we're used to, but they'll be outfitted for use in a modern era.

Shawn Ashley: Investigation and construction work began in 2015. What's now left to be done?

Trait Thompson: By the end of January, not much really. We, in 2021, will be working in the second floor south space, which is where we're moving the new Betty Price gallery to. And then in the space that was formerly the lieutenant governor's office, which is a historic corridor, we'll be removing the in-fill and putting the Hall of Governors in that space. We are creating a new State Capitol Museum on the ground floor in space that was formerly the Ethics Commission and Election Board space. This museum will be there to tell the story of the construction of the building and also to educate people on the branches of government and our function in government.

We partnered with the Historical Society to create those exhibits, and many of the artifacts that have been in storage or in safekeeping are going to be able to be on permanent display there, which is very exciting.
Other than that, we have one more meeting space that is in the former Betty Price Art Gallery that we’ll be completing for the House of Representatives and we'll also be trying to do repairs on the South Plaza to make that a little bit more functional, as well.

Dick Pryor: Do you need any more money to complete the project?

Trait Thompson: No, we've managed to use all of our funding well. We have two hundred and forty-five million dollars in bond funds, but we've earned premium and interest on those bonds, so we anticipate that we will have about two hundred and eighty million dollars for construction. In fact, we went back to our oversight committee a few weeks ago and said, “Hey, we have three million dollars that we don't have allocated to anything, “what do you want to do with that?’” And so, one of those things was the Betty Price Art Gallery. Another was to do some work on the South Plaza, which the South Plaza wasn't in our scope at all. And so the fact that we're getting any work out there is really a bonus for us.

Shawn Ashley: When is the capitol restoration project finally going to be complete and they're going to give you the keys back to the building?

Trait Thompson: The project is going to be completed in the spring of 2022. And by the time the legislature comes back for session in 2022 other than some demobilization activities and kind of sweeping our way out of the building, this project will be finished and hopefully by the summer of 2022 we’ll be ready for a nice big grand reopening celebration for the fully restored Oklahoma State Capitol.

Dick Pryor: But Trait, by the time this project is over, you will be in a new position. You've been named executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, set to begin in that position on January 4th, and you will be taking on a big challenge, succeeding the legendary Dr. Bob Blackburn.

Trait Thompson: Yeah, don't remind me, Dick. Any time that you succeed someone that most people call legendary, that's a little bit of a daunting task and in some ways, I feel like the dog who accidentally caught the car. I'm really excited about this challenge. History and the mission of the Historical Society is near and dear to my heart and Dr. Blackburn has been incredibly supportive to me in taking over for him. And I can't wait to get started on this new challenge and it's going to be a really, really fun thing for me. And I'm humbled to be able to do that.

Dick Pryor: Trait Thompson, well done. Thank you. And good luck in your new position.

Trait Thompson: Thanks so much.

Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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