Lack of Funding May Delay Oklahoma History Center Construction

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If bond funding for the new Oklahoma History Center under construction northeast of the State Capitol is not forthcoming by next March, the facility may sit idle as an empty shell until funding is made available, Oklahoma Historical Society Director Bob Blackburn said Tuesday.

"The exterior will be completed, most of the grounds, the parking lot will be there," he said. "But when you go in the door you won't see anything. There'll be no interior finish. There'll be no heating and air conditioning system, no electrical systems, no interior finishes. You'll see big open spaces."

Blackburn told the Capitol Chamber of Commerce that $16 million in bond funding needed to finish the project ran afoul of the crush of work at the end of the 2002 legislative session, and about $6 million in additional private funding is needed for post- construction purposes such as exhibits.

The society received $32 million in bond funding from the Legislature in 1998 and has since received $3 million in private funding for planning, staffing and related needs.

The main museum and research wing are now under construction. The $16 million to complete the center must be approved by the Legislature and governor. Barring a special session to approve the funding, phase II of the project will wait until next year.

"We will get that money," said Blackburn. "We will finish it."

If all goes well, he added, the center may open by spring of 2004.

However, if funding is delayed past March of 2003, he said, the project may lose the construction crew now on the job.

"If they go to another project, we're not sure when we could get them back, because the way they work, they'll take their key staff to another project when there's nothing to do," he said. "If we lose them right now, it could delay it up to six months."

It can take 90 days to sell bonds once funding is approved, Blackburn pointed out.

"And we have to have that money to encumber to go out for bid," he said. "We probably could mobilize fairly quickly. If it's in March, we're OK. If it's after March, and depending on cash flow, there could be a delay of up to six months."

There is substantial support for the project on both sides of the political aisle, Blackburn said.

"I of course don't know who the new governor is, so that's the one wild card," he said. "But after the primaries I will be talking to all three candidates and I'll be asking them a very specific question, is this a project that's a high priority or not? We know right now the legislative leadership, both Democrat and Republican, are very supportive and want to finish this, so we think it will be finished. …