Capitol Restoration Project, vol 1.

If you've driven by or seen photos of the Oklahoma State Capitol recently, you probably noticed that about half of the building is surrounded by scaffolding and shrouded in white tarps. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go behind the curtain with the project manager, Trait Thompson, to tour the capitol restoration efforts. It was an impressive, down-right fascinating look at how we maintain one of Oklahoma's top tourist destinations. It's a lot of work and a lot of attention to detail. Mike Holmes would be proud.

Construction on the Oklahoma Capitol Restoration project began in 2015, with the exterior repairs slated to wrap-up in 2019 and interior work ending in 2022. The scope and scale of the project are almost difficult to imagine: 21.5 miles of mortar joints, 477 cast-iron custom windows, hundreds of doors, thousands of miles of cabling and plumbing. 

View of what's currently in the basement ceiling. All of this has be re-routed.

View of what's currently in the basement ceiling. All of this has be re-routed.

This area of ceiling has already been completed. See how clean that looks? 

This area of ceiling has already been completed. See how clean that looks? 

It's never an easy task repair a 100-year-old building and make it functional for the 21st century, especially when that building has six floors and is made of stone. To make matters worse, many parts of the building have been largely neglected for most of that time, with quick-fixes and temporary repairs now straining to hold things together. In fact, the main visitor entrance on the south side of the building has required scaffolding over the sidewalk to protect visitors from pieces of falling stone that crumble off the exterior walls. (For an in-depth explanation of the condition of the Capitol prior to restoration efforts, check out this lengthy document.)

The restoration project will affect every floor of the building, but the basement is getting some special attention, as it houses many of the key infrastructure components (such as plumbing and electrical) that keep the building running.

Miles of wire and cable has to be re-routed into...

Miles of wire and cable has to be re-routed into...

...these shiny new electrical panels down the hall.

...these shiny new electrical panels down the hall.

These pipes carry steam from geothermal wells near the Attorney General's building up to the Capitol to heat the building. (Yes, my fellow "The West Wing" fans - this is our very own "steam pipe trunk distribution venue." I can hear Ainsley's voice already...)

These pipes carry steam from geothermal wells near the Attorney General's building up to the Capitol to heat the building. (Yes, my fellow "The West Wing" fans - this is our very own "steam pipe trunk distribution venue." I can hear Ainsley's voice already...)

The basement will also become the new entry point for visitors, with a beautiful new, fully-accessible entrance similar to the one at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. 

Source: OMES

Source: OMES

While the basement is about gutting and repurposing, the exterior work is more about cleaning and repairing. The building was originally constructed of limestone from Indiana and granite from Tishomingo, and the restoration team was able to source new stone from those same areas to use for repairs. Trait showed me how the stonemasons perform "Dutchman repairs" on damaged stone. It's pretty amazing to see but hard to explain, so just look at these photos if you're curious. Also here's some photos of the beautiful sculptural elements of our state Capitol:

Wouldn't be a government building without some bald eagles. This one is about 3 ft tall.

Wouldn't be a government building without some bald eagles. This one is about 3 ft tall.

This is all one piece of stone. The original stonemasons carved in and around that block across the middle. 

This is all one piece of stone. The original stonemasons carved in and around that block across the middle. 

I'd be amiss if I didn't introduce you to Burt, one of the eight winged lion chimeras that adorn the state capitol building. (This one has a mustache, so the restoration team named him after Burt Reynolds.) Burt sits on the top, northeast corner of the building and was carved from a single 60,000-pound block of limestone. He's one huge, solid piece of stone.

Not bad looking for a 100-year old, weather-beaten, mustachioed lion with wings.

Not bad looking for a 100-year old, weather-beaten, mustachioed lion with wings.

Below you can see a side-by-side comparison of what the exterior restoration looks like. The image on the left is yet to be restored, while the image on the right is of columns that have been cleaned and repaired & repainted windows.

Old & moldy vs new clean & shiny. (And watertight, which is a new feature.) 

Old & moldy vs new clean & shiny. (And watertight, which is a new feature.) 

Speaking of windows, Trait said they have been the most difficult part of the exterior restoration. There are 477 windows, all made of cast iron, and nearly all needing to be repair. The windows are unique to this building and are unlike anything else in the world. As you can imagine, when rainwater sits on the iron window frames for, oh, 100 years or so, it begins to rust. Ironworkers craft custom replacement pieces and weld them into place. The cost of repairing is far less than replacing them - only $8 million rather than $20 million. (If you think that sounds like a lot of money, go get an estimate to replace all the windows in your home - you'll be surprised by how expensive even "regular" windows can be!)

Big thanks to Trait and the rest of the Oklahoma Capitol Restoration team for giving us a deeper understanding and appreciation of the project. We look forward to visiting again as the work progresses.

This post barely scratches the surface on what they're doing; I strongly encourage you to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more of the story. If you're really interested in all the details (including the research, proposal, and finances) of the project, visit their website: http://capitolrestore.ok.gov