OKLAHOMA CITY — State officials on Wednesday unveiled the new Capitol visitors entrance on the southeast side.
During the administration of former Gov. Mary Fallin, lawmakers approved $245 million in bonds for repairs to the interior and exterior of the Capitol, which was plagued by plumbing, electrical and infrastructure issues.
Gov. Kevin Stitt cut the ribbon to formally open the area as first lady Sarah Stitt, lawmakers, Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Noma Gurich, legislative staff, and former Gov. Frank Keating and former first lady Cathy Keating watched.
The entrance is on the ground level, formerly called the basement. The ground level houses a gift shop and cafeteria and provides access to a tunnel to the east parking lot across the street.
Visitors are met with a large floor map with outlines of the state’s 77 counties.
“On a summer morning in July 1914, Gov. Lee Cruce stood right here with hundreds of Oklahomans gathered,” Stitt said. “He swung a silver pick into the dirt and broke ground where the cornerstone for our state Capitol would be laid.
“One-hundred years later, in July 2014, our state started a new journey. The goal was to ensure the people’s house would be preserved for generations to come.”
The Capitol restoration project is 90% complete and is on track to be finished in mid-2022, Stitt said.
Stitt said the visitor entrance is the front door to the iconic state building.
“I love that the Capitol does not belong to any one person,” Stitt said. “It belongs to Oklahomans.
“Oklahoma, this is your office where you can make your voice heard, where you can bring your passions, your concerns and dreams to the table.”
A little more than 30 years ago, eighth-graders from Norman took a field trip to the Capitol, where they got to meet then Gov. Henry Bellmon, he said.
“Now, one of those eighth-graders has grown up and now walks these historic halls as the 28th governor of Oklahoma,” Stitt said, referring to himself.
Steve Mason, chairman of the State Capitol Restoration Expenditure Oversight Committee, said the project actually began about 25 years ago, when Keating led efforts to put a dome on the building.
Mason said using the old southeast entrance on the first floor was like walking into someone’s garage to get into their house.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, talked about the struggle to pass the bonds to finance the project.
Thompson said it was not an easy vote because some thought more funds should go to education or other projects.
“Well, I want you to know there are busloads of children who come to this building every year for education about the history of Oklahoma,” Thompson said.
Fred Schmidt, a principal with FSB, said the new visitor’s center will have a replica of The Guardian, the statute on top of the Capitol dome, information kiosks where visitors can search for their legislators, and a new Capitol museum.
“This project will forever change and transform the visitor experience to our Capitol,” Schmidt said.
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