In an era where so many controversies feature rivals that can be easily set apart as “good guy” and “bad guy,” the quandary of who to root for in the bidding for downtown's historic former Central High School is far more in the gray area.
As I reported Sunday, Oklahoma City Public Schools superintendent Karl Springer has high hopes of reclaiming the school, which the district sold to Southwestern Bell Telephone some three decades ago. With the current administration building at NW 8 and Klein Avenue a mess surrounded by boarded-up and unkempt homes, the school system would enjoy a much-needed boost in self-esteem with a move to the ornate downtown Central High at 800 N Harvey Ave.
But there's a catch: Oklahoma City University wants to buy the same property for its law school. And while some readers were sympathetic to the needs of Oklahoma City Public Schools, the majority who commented either on the story, or via Twitter, Facebook or on local message boards, clearly were far more excited about the prospect of old Central High becoming a law school.
It's understandable. The public's view of the school administration building is usually via televised news reports of angry protests at school board meetings or of beleaguered spokespeople issuing statements about unfortunate incidents involving school buses or schoolyard fights.
OCU, meanwhile, promotes a vision of hundreds of law students filling up the hallways and restored classrooms at Central High and working at area firms during the day, and renting downtown apartments and enjoying the downtown entertainment scene at night.
Despite an explanation that OCU's original choice for new law school home, the old Fred Jones auto plant at 800 W Main, is economically unfeasible, a couple of readers insisted it should go back to that original plan. Readers were indeed upset when OCU abandoned those plans, which would have been a great boost to redevelopment of downtown's long blighted west side.
Some readers also questioned whether Oklahoma City Public Schools, which struggled to maintain its current administration building, can really afford the upkeep of one of the city's most historic assets — one that is more than a century old.
Questions also persist about how Oklahoma City Public Schools will really be able to buy the old Central high. It has $8.5 million in publicly announced funding, while the building's listed price is $11.5 million. Where will the remaining money come from? For now, Springer isn't saying.
One of the last comments I saw on this matter, posted via Twitter by investor Bond Payne, may cut to the heart of not just this debate, but others that might arise if the school district pursues a Plan B that would involve increasingly scarce downtown office space.
“Public investment should never crowd out private,” Payne argued. “Also, what is the strategic interest that school board has downtown?”
Readers had plenty to say about the story that ran Sunday in The Oklahoman. Here are some of their reactions. If you can't see the timeline below click here.
Public investment should never crowd out private.”