Town and gown have come together with shovels and hardhats for several combo education-event centers in Oklahoma’s regional university towns.
It has added up to tens of millions of dollars in development — and new venues and civic pride — that neither the cities, local businesses nor the universities could afford on their own, said Susan Winchester, chairwoman of the Board of Regents of the Regional University System of Oklahoma.
Projects of note are:
Pioneer Cellular Event Center, a $24 million patnership between Southwestern Oklahoma State University and the city of Weatherford.
Northeastern State University Event Center, a $17.1 million partnership between Northeastern State University and the city of Tahlequah.
Harland Stonecipher School of Business and Chickasaw Business and Conference Center, a $14 million partnership between East Central University in Ada, the Stonecipher family, which founded Ada-based Preqaid Legal Services, and the Chickasaw Nation.
CHK/Central Boathouse, a $6.8 million partership between the University of Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma City in the Boathouse District along the Oklahoma River.
Lesley L. Walls Vision Center, a $1 million partnership between Northeastern State University-Broken Arrow and local donors.
Each project connects with the community in a different way. In Weatherford and Tahlequah, each city gained an entertainment or sports venue. In Ada, the university connected with the Ada business community and Chickasaw Nation, which has its tribal headquarters in Ada.
In Oklahoma City, CHK/Central Boathouse, initially, in 2010, a civic project of Chesapeake Energy Corp., is scheduled to be complete by March 2015 with further funding from MidFirst Bank. It will be home to UCO’s women’s rowing team, a live music venue and art gallery.
In Broken Arrow, the Lesley L. Walls Vision Center improves local health services. The 7,000-square-foot clinic provides low-vision and neuro-optometric services for patients who have lost vision because of brain injury, retinal degeneration or other trauma — services otherwise unavailable in the Tulsa area.
Such partnering meets the needs of both town and gown — residents and students — “despite the fact that higher education institutions and many cities across the state have experienced decreased or flat budgets over the past five years,” the regents said in a statement.
The projects did not come as a result of a push by the regents, said Winchester, a former state representative and president of the business lobbying group Research Institute for Economic Development.
“We’ve always encouraged cooperation between the schools and the communities,” she said. “This was just a natural evolution. It’s just a good melding of resources with the cost of things today.”
Cooperation is a natural extension of the universities’ careful use of limited resources, said Richard Ogden, immediate past chairman of the Board of Regents and an Oklahoma City attorney.
“The Regional University System of Oklahoma continually seeks to be responsible stewards of funding through research grants, energy initiatives, reduced administrative expenses and information technology savings,” Ogden said. “By joining with our local communities to create mutlipurpose event centers, we are expanding our mission by investing wisely in our students, as well as the citizens who support us.”