RON Norick was Oklahoma City's mayor at the time of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing. The old Central High School, which had been converted into an office building, was a key facility to provide succor for the rescue workers charged with a grim task.
Eighteen years later, Norick is chairman of the board of trustees at Oklahoma City University and Central is about to become home to OCU's School of Law.
A part of downtown devastated by the bombing will thus see an influx of students who will attend classes in a historic structure designed for education. Norick is celebrating the rebirth of Central as a place of learning. OCU is continuing a $20 million-plus fund drive to buy and retrofit a building designed by Solomon Layton, who was also architect of the state Capitol building.
Under the leadership of OCU President Robert Henry and law school Dean Valerie Couch, the university will move law students off the main campus on NW 23, freeing space for the expansion of other programs. Norick, Henry and Couch envision a rich environment for law faculty and students, many of whom will likely live nearby.
Also within walking distance are the centers of justice in Oklahoma, including the federal and county court houses and the jail. Major law firms have their headquarters downtown, further enhancing the ease of integrating academia with the real world. Students will have an incentive to live in or near downtown because many of them will end up working there after they get their degrees.
OCU's law school dates to 1907, the year of statehood. Central was built in 1910. It occupies a full city block between Harvey and Robinson avenues and NW 7 and NW 8, two blocks from the Murrah site.
Central was the Oklahoma headquarters for Southwestern Bell at the time of the bombing. It became a dormitory and feeding station for rescue workers who came from across the nation to assist with the recovery. With five levels and more than 177,000 square feet, Central has ample room for the law school. Nearby parking is ample as well.
Norick was a guiding force for MAPS in 1993, which dramatically altered the pre-bombing attitudes about downtown Oklahoma City and the offerings available for residents and visitors. MAPS 3 includes a streetcar project. The route will almost certainly serve the Central site. Henry hopes the streetcar system will eventually link the law school with the main campus.
Moving downtown is part of a trend among law schools to relocate in the hearts of cities. It's happening across the country. Any downside to separating law school students from the general student population is more than compensated by the advantages of being in the vibrant heart of a dynamic city.
For most of its history, Central has been a center for education, not an office building. It was originally known as Oklahoma High School. At a ceremony this month, Henry referred to the building as a “temple of learning.” Plans call for starting law classes in the fall of 2014.
OCU's School of Law has the stuff to make this dream a reality. Henry (a former state attorney general and federal judge), Norick and Couch join distinguished alumni such as Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, in boosting the law school's move.
We encourage other alumni to support this project financially. No better usage could have been found for this building. As for the Central High graduates who are still with us, they can rest assured that their own “temple of learning” is in good hands.