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Oklahoma City Public Schools, OCU Law School rivals in bidding to buy former Central High School

Oklahoma City Public Schools is competing against the Oklahoma City University Law School in an effort to buy the former Central High School.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: July 9, 2012

The Journal Record Building is split in half. The west half is controlled and occupied by the Oklahoma City National Memorial. The east half, with the more ornate and historic front entrance, spans 100,000 square feet, of which 15,000 square feet is leased to the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism.

Springer estimates the school administration needs a minimum of 100,000 square feet. The Journal Record property also lacks adequate parking and accessibility for patrons, he said.

“We are a service organization, we have people we provide services to, and we need significant parking,” he said. “With the old Central High, the parking is there.”

Norick, meanwhile, notes that the former Model T plant was a bigger challenge than anticipated.

“It really got to be more of a budget issue and a timing issue with the university,” Norick said. “It was a bigger project and remodel than what we could afford. It was going to be a lease, and we think the university ought to own the asset.”

Dollars and cents

Terry Detrick, president of American Farmers and Ranchers, and Cordell Brown, a broker with Price Edwards representing the seller, declined to comment on competing offers or when a bid might be approved.

A listing on the Price Edwards website shows the asking price is $11.5 million, with amenities including a cafeteria, large conference spaces, two private parking lots and a covered parking area.

When the property went up for sale in 2010, executives with American Farmers and Ranchers said the building, spanning 177,000 square feet, was simply “too much” for a company with fewer than 200 front-office employees.

Springer said, “It's a conservative decision for us to go after a building that is in close to move-in condition. Oklahoma City Public Schools does not have the capability or desire to go out and build a new building (which by some estimates would cost $20 million).”

By consolidating operations, Springer believes the district also would save money by no longer leasing space for its research division and adult education classes. Joining up with the teachers union and schools foundation, he says, also will result in better efficiency.

“People seem to work better together when they are close and have daily access to each other,” Springer said.

It was Norick, as chairman of the tax increment finance committee, who helped the school system move closer to making its bid successful by recently approving an application to add $1.5 million in funding for the project. The district's school board also approved an additional $3 million for the project, which already had $4 million in funding from the MAPS for Kids sales tax.

That brings the approved funding for the district's bid is $8.5 million, $3 million short of the $11.5 million asking price. Springer wouldn't disclose the district's bid, or whether additional money would be needed to buy Central High. He would not rule out the possibility of tapping into remaining MAPS for Kids contingency funds.

Norick, likewise, wouldn't disclose the amount bid by OCU, a private university.

Persuasive arguments

Couch, the law school dean, sees Central High as both a solution for existing problems and the way forward to enhancing the law school's prominence and attractiveness to potential new students.

“This is an iconic landmark building right in the heart of downtown,” Couch said. “We are the city's law school. And it's time for the city's law school to be in the heart of downtown.”

Couch said the law school's enrollment is about 600. Classes, faculty offices and clinics are spread across four buildings on the OCU campus. She sees the former school's auditorium being returned to that use for seminars and community events.

“It is a beautiful landmark building that was originally a school, designed for a school, and we think we could renovate it as we want it to function,” Couch said. “It gives off a sense to me of the traditions and values of our profession. I think our students would love it, and it would be a symbol of the purpose they have in going to law school.”

Springer sees similar opportunities and symbolism for the district acquiring the former school.

“I believe the reasons they have are compelling for their organization,” Springer said of OCU's bid. “I have no doubt about that. We want to buy the building because we want to move closer to downtown, consolidate our operation and reclaim our history.”

by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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