CAPITOL Dome Work Begins

Tuesday, May 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

(OKLAHOMA CITY) - The sound of lawmakers locked in debate was replaced by the whir of drills and rotary saws inside the State Capitol on Tuesday as workers prepared to erect a $21 million dome.

More than a dozen workers crowded into the Capitol's fourth-floor rotunda five days after the Legislature adjourned its regular session and installed a protective coating of plywood and foam to protect it's marble floor as work begins overhead.

Paintings of some of Oklahoma's most famous sons - including humorist Will Rogers, Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe and former U.S. House Speaker Carl Albert - were removed from their rotunda mountings to protect them from damage during the dome's construction.

The paintings will be on display at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa beginning July 1 in a display of Capital rotunda art, said Betty Price, state arts director.

Other works of art around the rotunda - including murals by Oklahoma artist Charles Banks Wilson that depict important moments in state history - will remain in place, protected by custom-made boxes, said John Jamison, project executive for Capitol Dome Builders.

The company is a joint project of two Oklahoma-based companies, Flintco Inc. and Manhattan Construction Co.

Jamison said walls will be erected around the rotunda to seal it off during the 18 months it will take to build the dome, which is scheduled for completion in November 2002.

The walls will be decorated with murals created by art students at the University of Central Oklahoma that will represent what the viewer would see inside the rotunda if the walls were not there, he said.

``We thought that would be a good way to train the art students,'' Jamison said.

Scaffolding will begin rising inside the rotunda by the end of the week, where workers will construct a wooden deck and begin the task of removing the state seal and stained glass panels that decorate the ceiling, Jamison said.

The ceiling will be demolished once a watertight temporary roof and work platform are complete, he said. Work on the roof is expected to begin June 20.

A 270-foot tower crane - the largest ever assembled in the state - has been erected in the Capitol's northeast corner to lift concrete and steel that will form the dome.

Pieces of the dome's exterior will begin rising in August, and the dome's structural frame will be complete in December.

When finished, the 5-million-pound dome will double the height of the Capitol to about 255 feet - the size of a 26-story building.

The dome will be topped with a 17-foot bronze statue of an American Indian, designed by Sen. Kelly Haney, D-Seminole.

Oklahoma's Capitol building, finished in 1917, is the only state capitol in the United States for which a dome was planned but never built. Plans for a concrete dome to cap the building were abandoned because of a shortage of money and steel during World War I.

Construction started in 1914 and the state allocated $1,515,000 for the project.