Oklahoma City University's law school is one step closer to moving downtown after officials signed a letter of intent with American Farmers and Ranchers Mutual Insurance to acquire the historic former Central High School.
Valerie Couch, law school dean, said the insurance company is asking for up to two years to find a new home, meaning a move might not occur for at least another year.
“This building fits our needs so well — at least it appears to,” Couch said. “We will have a due diligence period to study it to make sure it will fit all of our classrooms and clinics. Our preliminary look indicates that certainly will be the case.”
The 102-year-old building, designed by legendary architect Andrew Solomon Layton, was given up by Oklahoma City Public Schools almost 30 years ago when it was sold to Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. The company won accolades for its use of tax credits for a renovation that kept the building intact while adapting it into office space.
Oklahoma Farmers Union Mutual Insurance Co. bought the 177,000-square-foot, highly ornamented, late Gothic-inspired building from SBC Oklahoma in 2005. The company, which expanded out of state and changed its name to American Farmers and Ranchers Mutual Insurance Co. in 2007, put the property up for sale in 2010 after determining the property was too large for its operations.
OCU faced the school district as a rival in bidding for the landmark. OCU and American Farmers and Ranchers declined to disclose an agreed-to sale price, but the school district had approved funding of $8.5 million. The property listing with Cordell Brown of Price Edwards & Co. was $11.5 million.
“When we first listed this in 2010, we thought it would go to an institution,” Brown said. “And sure enough, two years later, that is exactly what happened.”
Public school interest
In an interview with The Oklahoman earlier this month, Oklahoma City Schools Superintendent Karl Springer called Central High a perfect choice for relocating the district's administrative operations.
He said the district needed a new home for its administration due to the high cost of bringing the current building, a former middle school at NW 8 and Klein Avenue, to modern standards. In the interview, he demonstrated how paper wedges were needed to keep desk drawers closed due to foundation and wall problems.