Oklahoma City Public Schools officials are doubling down on their potential investment to return to the district's roots in the old Central High School building downtown.
The district's Board of Education voted this week to contribute up to $3 million toward the purchase of the building, doubling its previous commitment of $1.5 million.
It would become the home of the district's administrative offices, currently housed in an aging former middle school and other buildings at NW 9 and Klein Avenue.
The historic 102-year-old former school at NW 7 and Robinson Avenue, the district's first high school, is now the home to insurance group American Farmers and Ranchers.
“We'll be making an offer on the building this week,” said David Todd, the city's MAPS director.
One of the final MAPS for Kids projects was intended to be a $4 million renovation of the current administration building. But a study showed the cost to turn it into purpose-built office space to be well in excess of that.
The district's offices now are in one of the only school buildings in the city that isn't brand-new or fully renovated, because MAPS for Kids took care of the buildings students use. The building has many mechanical and structural issues.
Conveniently, the old Central High School building had a thorough renovation to turn it into office space in the 1980s.
“It's a combination of history and functionality,” said Jim Burkey, the district's chief operations officer.
Beyond the functional purpose of the building, school officials hope there are more intangible benefits, too.
The current administrative offices have officials spread across multiple buildings; all would be under one roof in the old Central High School building.
“The nature of the building will contribute to a stronger collaborative culture,” said Sonic Corp. Chairman and CEO Cliff Hudson, a former chairman of the school board. “In the building they're in right now, I think it's difficult. The layout does not lend itself to ready engagement.”
And the location well inside the central business district could increase the profile of the school district among some of the city's most influential leaders, Hudson and Burkey said.
The institutional architecture and history, along with the professional interior finish of the building, is also more representative of where the district wants to go as it continues a turnaround effort.
“The location of the facility and what it looks like, it's sending a positive message about our schools to the community,” Burkey said.
“That's this district being able to re-create some history, and I think that's extremely important.”
Affordability is issue
It remains to be seen whether the school district and MAPS trust can afford the building. The original renovation project budget of $4 million can be used along with the schools' $3 million.
Additional MAPS contingency funds and a contribution from a tax increment finance district can also be included.
The schools' portion comes from its building funds and is an exception in the MAPS for Kids program, which has featured city money paying for local school districts' capital needs. Oklahoma City Public Schools' injection of its own money is unique to the program.
The move is the latest in a series of cooperative moves between the district and the city that includes a joint school board and city council task force.
School Board Chairman Angela Monson is an ardent supporter of acquiring the old Central High School building for the new administrative offices. She's optimistic a deal will be done.
The building has been on the market since 2010.
“We hope that the sellers understand that we are a public entity, a governmental entity. We don't have infinite amounts of resources,” Monson said.
“I hope they do also understand the historical significance and take that into account as well. … We're going to make our best run at it, and we'll see what happens.”