NORMAN — A decade ago, the parcel of land just southeast of the University of Oklahoma's Lloyd Noble Center was but an empty field.
Today, the area is home to a burgeoning community of university researchers, government agencies and private industry partners.
OU's Research Campus is home to seven buildings devoted to research, with two more facilities planned. But before those buildings opened, the area had sat unused for decades.
OU broke ground Oct. 30 on the next addition to the OU Research Campus, the $15 million Radar Innovations Lab. OU officials expect the laboratory to open in December 2013.
The new facility is at the center of the university's efforts to expand its radar program into other applications beyond predicting the weather. OU officials say it will include a number of features, such as a high-bay garage designed to accommodate taller radar trucks that are fitted for storm chasing.
Another building project in the Research Campus is in the final planning stages. Five Partners Place will be the fifth in a group of similarly named office buildings designed to house private companies that partner with the university in research projects. OU officials expect to break ground on the building this fall.
The two buildings will be the latest additions to an area of campus that has seen rapid growth in recent years. The university opened One Partners Place and the Stephenson Research and Technology Center, the first two buildings in the Research Campus, in 2004.
Since then, the campus has seen the construction of three more Partners Place buildings, the National Weather Center and the Stephenson Life Sciences Research Center, making the Research Campus one of the fastest-growing areas at OU.
The campus today differs somewhat from the plan university officials had initially laid out for the area, said Daniel Pullin, OU's vice president for strategic planning and economic development.
At first, when university officials mapped out plans for development in the area, they saw the campus as a natural extension of the university's research efforts, with space included for private and government programs, as well.
The original plan didn't provide for much overlap between sectors, he said, so the campus' private tenants wouldn't have many opportunities to interact with researchers from OU or any government agencies that were located on campus, including the National Weather Service.
As the plan progressed, though, university officials began to recognize the value of encouraging interaction among the public, private and academic sectors represented on campus, he said. That interaction tends to build collaboration and intellectual energy, he said.
Today, the plan allows representatives from all three areas to work in the same spaces. In some cases, he said, organizations from all three sectors may share the same floor, “creating the random encounters that are characteristic of a thriving, intellectually diverse ecosystem.”
As the university continues to develop the area, leaders will look for ways to make the entire campus, including outdoor areas, one large, cohesive research center, said Kelvin Droegemeier, OU's vice president for research.
Researchers could place video cameras outdoors to study how people move through the campus, he said, or use outdoor equipment to study carbon. That idea is part of a larger vision to make the entire research campus a center of innovation — not just laboratories inside buildings. But the university isn't to that point yet, he said.
“We have a lot of wonderful buildings separated by a lot of asphalt,” he said.
Major selling point
Having an area on campus dedicated to research is good for the university for a number of reasons, Droegemeier said. Among them, he said, is the fact that top-notch research facilities can be a major selling point for potential faculty members.
Droegemeier said he thinks the dynamic nature of the Research Campus will make students want to stay in Norman after they graduate and potentially go to work either for OU or one of the university's research partners that are located on campus.
“It's very obviously a place where a lot of exciting things are happening,” he said.