OKLAHOMA CITY — State and construction officials Wednesday celebrated the opening of the Capitol’s new state-of-the-art visitor entrance.

The new entrance will provide expanded restroom access and more security stations. There also will be a state Capitol history museum. Additionally, the new entrance has a large map of Oklahoma engraved into the floor just inside the front door that highlights all 77 counties.

With the completion of the entrance, the eight-year, $275 million state Capitol overhaul is now 90 percent complete, said Gov. Kevin Stitt. The estimated completion date for the entire project is mid-2022.

“Today, we’re celebrating this major milestone,” Stitt said.

Previously, visitors had to come in through the side doors that were covered by ramshackle scaffolding to protect people from falling debris. During busy seasons, people stood in long lines outside just waiting to get in, he said.

Now, there’s plenty of space inside for Oklahomans to wait and two security stations to help expedite screening.

“There’s more to this than just an entrance,” Stitt said. “At the heart of it, this is not how people enter, but who enters. I love that the Capitol doesn’t belong to any one person. It belongs to Oklahomans. Oklahoma, this is your office where you can make your voice heard. Where you can bring your passions, and your concerns and your dreams to the table.”

Stitt said 22,000 man-hours went into completing the project.

Craig Abbott, vice president of Manhattan Construction, said he wants visitors walking through the new visitors entrance to understand the “blood, sweat and tears” that went into it.

“Where you see marble and stone and granite, I see missed ball games and time away from families, and I see struggling marriages,” he said. “Where you see brand new efficient heat and air systems, I see thousands of hours poured in in hot summer temperatures and cold blustery winters.”

Where visitors see glass and drywall, Abbott said he sees a group of people who worked throughout the pandemic to keep the project on track.

Several lawmakers noted that former Gov. Mary Fallin was noticeably missing from the ceremony. They said she was a driving force behind the initial vision, pressing for legislative funding and then kicking off the overhaul.

“I believe it’s past time for the state Capitol to undergo a complete renovation because it is the centerpiece of statehood,” said state Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah. “It is the link to our rich history, and now we are poised to carry our rich history into the future.”

Fred Schmidt, the architect, said Capitols that have undergone similar transformations have seen their visitor numbers triple.

“This project will forever change and transform the visitor experience to our Capitol,” he said.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites.

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