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COLUMNS raised for Capitol dome

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A band played ``Oklahoma!'' and spectators, including two former governors, applauded Wednesday as workmen hoisted a steel beam that will support the state Capitol's new dome.

``Let's build a dome,'' Gov. Frank Keating said as he instructed the operator of a mammoth tower crane to lift the 10,000-pound column of steel and mount it atop the 84-year-old Capitol.

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About 300 people _ among them Henry Bellmon and David Boren, each former governors and U.S. senators _ turned out for the dome-raising ceremony where Keating lauded the $21 million project as a tangible sign of ``the rising of the ethic and the goodness of Oklahoma.''

``We have our best days in front of us,'' said Francis Rooney of Manhattan Construction Co., which is building the dome in a joint project with Flintco Inc.

Thirty-two support columns will ring the top of the Capitol to support the 5 million-pound dome, which will more than double the Capitol's height to that of a 26-story building.

It will be topped by a 17-foot tall, 6,000-pound bronze statue of an American Indian called ``The Guardian.'' The statue was designed by Indian artist and state Sen. Enoch Kelly Haney, D-Seminole.

The Oklahoma Capitol was built between 1914 and 1917 and is the only Capitol in the nation for which a dome was designed but never built. Plans for a concrete-and-steel dome were abandoned because of a shortage of money and steel during World War I.

``We're here to finish what we started 87 years ago,'' said Blake Wade, chairman of the Oklahoma Centennial Commission. The dome is one of the commission's key projects as it prepares for Oklahoma's centennial celebration in 2007.

The dome is scheduled for completion on Nov. 16, 2002, the 95th anniversary of Oklahoma's statehood.

The governor and first lady Cathy Keating were among hundreds of Oklahomans who signed the steel support column to make their names a permanent part of the new dome. Mrs. Keating wrote: ``Oklahoma, field of dreams.''

``Oklahoma has a great history,'' said Sen. Gene Stipe, D-McAlester, one of many private donors who pledged millions of dollars toward the dome project.

The dome's exterior is being paid entirely with private donations, with the interior finishing work to be paid with state bond money.

Stipe got a chuckle from the crowd when he chided Bellmon and Boren for not getting the project off the ground sooner.

``I don't know why y'all didn't think of this. You thought of everything else,'' Stipe said.

Bellmon tried to gather support for a dome project during his first administration in the 1960s. Another attempt to erect a dome failed in the 1980s.

``We didn't have the money or we didn't have the will to complete it,'' Keating said.


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