The Oklahoma City University Board of Trustees on Wednesday approved a proposal for its law school to move downtown into the former Central High School.
“The law school has been looking for an ideal downtown location for its students for several years,” said Dean Valerie K. Couch. “This magnificent building came to our attention and it ignited our imagination. Here we will be able to build new and dynamic connections with the legal and business community and contribute to the growth and progress of this great city of ours.”
The law school's purchase offer was accepted in early September and a 60-day due diligence period began, which allowed time to ensure the purchase was feasible from a physical and financial standpoint. A task force of law school faculty, staff, students and administrators was assembled to assist with assessing the feasibility of a move. The purchase price was not disclosed by OCU.
OCU officials are planning for renovations to make the building suitable for law school usage. The building currently houses offices for American Farmers and Ranchers Mutual Insurance Co.
The university will begin planning the logistics of the move in the coming months, with hopes of opening for classes at the downtown location by fall of 2014. Law students, faculty and staff would occupy most of the building, with enough space to also house the clinical programs, law review and the law library.
OCU Trustee Chairman Ron Norick said he estimates that with renovations set to cost about $8 million, and with the acquisition cost and furnishings, the total project cost will range between $20 million and $22 million.
Once the renovations are complete, the stadium-seating classrooms will be on the fourth floor, student lounges and a food court will be on the third floor, the law library will be on the second floor, and administrative offices, cafeteria, the Innocence Project and the Native American Law Center will be on the first floor.
The Central High building was subject to intense bidding earlier this year by OCU and Oklahoma City Public Schools, which wanted the building for its administrative headquarters. The historic Gothic-style building at 800 N Harvey Ave. was constructed in 1910 and is on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
The 177,000-square-foot structure was designed by Andrew Solomon Layton, a prominent early-day Oklahoma City architect who also designed the Skirvin Hotel, the state Capitol and structures on the university's campus. The building was given up by Oklahoma City Public Schools almost 30 years ago when it was sold to Southwestern Bell Telephone Co.
Oklahoma Farmers Union Mutual Insurance Co. purchased the 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.
Close to connections
The new law school home is being promoted as an exceptional location with close access to courthouses and many of the city's law firms, with enough capacity to hold classrooms and the law library under one roof.
OCU President Robert Henry said the building also will serve as a venue for some of the university's special events, including entertainment performances and business functions.
“This is a significant move for our law school, our university, our Oklahoma City,” Henry said. “OCU students will have more opportunities for access to courtrooms and major law firms, which is a valuable addition to their learning experiences. Many will move downtown, further vitalizing our growing and vibrant city. On the Oklahoma City University campus, this move creates new opportunities for several other expanding programs.”
The move is seen by supporters as an economic boost for downtown thanks to approximately 550 students, and nearly 100 faculty, staff and administrators working in the city's core.
Norick said the move downtown provides symbiotic benefits for the school and the city.
“We will be glad to join the fast-growing downtown business community,” Norick said. “This move will benefit our law students tremendously and add hundreds of young professionals to downtown Oklahoma City.”