STILLWATER — To anyone who has been in the building in the past 20 years, the renovated Postal Plaza will look entirely different once construction is wrapped up this fall.
But anyone who knew the downtown Stillwater landmark as it looked more than 30 years ago is bound to recognize the inside of the building when it re-opens in the fall, said Mike Buchert, Oklahoma State University's long-range facilities planning director.
OSU is renovating the historic building for use as a gallery to house the university's art collection. Buchert said Thursday that crews are about a third of the way through with construction, and hope to be able to open the building in late September.
OSU officials hope to name a director for the gallery at next week's meeting of the Board of Regents for Oklahoma State University and the A&M Colleges. The board meets Jan. 25 at the OSU Institute of Technology in Okmulgee.
So far, Buchert said, crews have torn out walls in the building and replaced them with new ones. A new roof for the building is nearly complete, he said.
The building dates back to the 1930s, and, as the name would indicate, originally served as a post office.
The building has changed hands several times since then. About 25 years ago, the building underwent renovations, including walls that divided up a large, open area that was an original feature of the building.
Crews are removing those walls, leaving behind the large, open area that was an original feature of the building, Buchert said.
“It will look very much like it did 30 years ago,” he said.
Renovating a building for use as an art gallery is somewhat different than converting it into offices, Buchert said.
OSU officials brought the proposal to buy and renovate the building to the OSU/A&M Board of Regents in June 2010. At the time, officials told the board the university lacked a good place for storing and displaying its permanent art collection.
Much of that collection has sat in storage for years, said Louise Siddons, the university's curator of collections.
The largest share of the university's art collection comes from the collection at the Gardiner Art Gallery, Siddons said. But the gallery isn't the only entity on campus that collects art — the Edmon Low Library also serves as a major repository. Much of the library's collection comes from the now-defunct OSU Museum of Natural and Cultural History, which closed in 1994.
The university's collection has grown quickly over the past three years as donors heard about the Postal Plaza gallery, Siddons said. Today, it includes about 2,000 pieces, she said.
The collection is especially strong in a few key areas, Siddons said, including 19th- and 20th-century African art, Oklahoma Modernism and late 20th-century American prints and drawings.
Once the gallery is complete, Siddons said, it will give the art department a dynamic space for programming. Many people think of a museum as a static place where people go to view art, she said. But the museum has already been active in the community and on campus, even though the collection doesn't yet have a permanent home.
The Postal Plaza gallery will allow the university to take a resource it already had — the permanent art collection — and turn it into a viable part of the curriculum by displaying it and designing programs around it.
The gallery's downtown location will also allow the university to extend those programs to the members of the larger Stillwater community who may not have any connection to the university, she said.
“I think the value of it is going to be the programming that happens in it,” she said.