February 3, 2022
Oklahoma Historical Society Announces 2022 Legislative Agenda
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) is pleased to announce its legislative agenda for the 2022 session.
The OHS has worked with Representative Avery Frix (R-Muskogee) and Senator Darcy Jech (R-Kingfisher) to file HB 4099 and SB 1780, respectively, for a $46M bond issue to address critical deferred maintenance needs at 23 museums and historic sites across the state. These sites are all state-owned and operated properties. OHS museums and historic sites are destinations for tourists, provide educational opportunities for young and old, and preserve Oklahoma’s rich history for future generations.
Upon being hired as executive director of the OHS, Trait Thompson began visits to the agency’s museums and historic sites across the state. During these visits, he noticed a big similarity between his new position and his previous work as project manager for the Oklahoma State Capitol Restoration Project—the dire need to address significant deferred maintenance issues left on the back burner due to budget concerns. With an annual maintenance budget of approximately $700,000 and properties located throughout the state, Thompson determined there would be no way to get ahead of the maintenance backlog without a significant investment. Throughout the summer, fall and winter, Thompson and OHS staff across the state began giving tours to legislators with OHS museums and sites in their districts so lawmakers could also see the critical needs to be addressed.
Many of the critical infrastructure projects the OHS seeks to undertake address immediate needs due to failures of finishes, water infiltration, loss of structural integrity, and/or major safety hazards. Securing capital funding now will allow the OHS to mitigate damage that has already occurred. Otherwise, the state faces the grave reality of potentially losing important parts of Oklahoma’s history.
Some of the major projects the OHS is hoping to complete at sites across the state include:
- Extensive roof, façade and window repair or replacement at most museums and historic sites
- Updating and/or replacing HVAC systems at many museums and historic sites
- Enhancing IT (e.g., phone and network) infrastructure and security systems
- Major repairs, resurfacing and expansion of roads to and parking lots at museums and historic sites
- Improving ADA accessibility
“Having been the project manager of the successful restoration of the Oklahoma State Capitol, I am keenly aware of the negative effect deferred maintenance can have on the long-term viability of our most important physical assets,” said Executive Director Thompson, regarding this year’s OHS bond proposal. “The OHS is responsible for preserving Oklahoma’s unique history, and we cannot let the current situation go any longer without risking loss. This $46 million bond issue will stop us from continually playing from behind and allow us to create an educational environment that truly welcomes visitors at all our OHS sites across the state. I am confident our friends at the Capitol will recognize the need for this critical investment.”
Additionally, the OHS has requested an overall budget increase for FY23 to address several needs.
The first request is for $1.2M to be added to the agency’s operating budget to hire additional staff across the state. In an effort to avoid closing historic sites and museums over the past several years, the OHS has reduced staff to combat budget cuts, leaving many of the sites with just one person to operate and maintain the site. The agency has also requested an additional $60,000 to connect our sites across Oklahoma to the state’s IT infrastructure in Oklahoma City, thus improving efficiency.
A one-time request of $380,000 is also included to plan the celebration of the 200th anniversaries of Fort Towson and Fort Gibson in 2024. These historic forts were critical establishments along the western frontier long before Oklahoma was a state, and the OHS is looking forward to planning commemorative activities to showcase their importance to the state’s history.
Lastly, a supplemental FY22 appropriation has been requested for operating funds at historic Fort Supply in anticipation of the OHS taking over ownership and maintenance of the site later this year due to the closure of the William S. Key Correctional Facility.
“Our legislative agenda is poised to put critical funding into the places the OHS needs it the most,” said Dr. Deena Fisher, president of the OHS Board of Directors. “Since I began my tenure on the board of directors, we have had to cut funding for personnel to keep our museums and sites open. Our $1.2 million request for additional staffing will help us to turn the tide and provide a better experience for our visitors and those who utilize the services we provide across the state. Furthermore, the proposed bond issue will address our most pressing infrastructure and improvement needs. I heartily encourage our lawmakers to support our legislative requests this year.”
The mission of the Oklahoma Historical Society is to collect, preserve and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma and its people. Founded in 1893 by members of the Territorial Press Association, the OHS maintains museums, historic sites and affiliates across the state. Through its research archives, exhibits, educational programs and publications the OHS chronicles the rich history of Oklahoma. For more information about the OHS, please visit www.okhistory.org.