When Lowe Runkle steps inside the old Central High School, it's not just history for him — it's a family legacy.
More than a century ago Runkle's great grandfather, Solomon Andrew Layton, designed the five-story landmark, which was destined to join the State Capitol, the Skirvin Hotel and the Oklahoma County Courthouse as his finest work.
Runkle himself is an architect, and the firm he works for, Frankfurt Short Bruza, is overseeing the conversion of the old school to the new home of the Oklahoma City University Law School.
“He was a pioneer, and he did many wonderful things,” Runkle said during a recent tour of the school. “We've done a disservice to him tearing down his many wonderful buildings. We very much live in a disposable society, so to preserve a great piece of architectural history like this is exciting.”
The renovation of the school, 800 N Harvey, set to begin this month, is also a reunion of sorts for Chris Wilson. His construction company, Anderson & House, built Central High back when the firm was known as Campbell & Price.
Wilson, president of Anderson & House, worked on the school's renovation in 1995 after the bombing of the nearby Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, By that time, the school had been home to Southwestern Bell Telephone operations for than a decade.
“It was used as a command center,” Wilson said. “After the rescue was over, we were contracted by Southwestern Bell to repair the damage. The windows were severely damaged; the ceiling was damaged, as were the floor tiles inside. But the building survived it very well. The exterior, built with cast stone, had minimal or no damage. It was built like a rock.”
The search for a new home for the law school dates back a decade, and OCU almost chose the former Fred Jones plant at 900 W Main in 2009 under then-President Tom McDaniel.
Fred Schmidt, director of architecture at Frankfurt Short Bruza, believes the Central High is the ideal setting to create a new brand and future for the law school
“The school of law has been working on defining their future for a long time,” Schmidt said. “And though they looked at a lot of venues, this one really clicked. It looks like a law school, and there is so much synergy that can occur with downtown.”
OCU is not releasing a cost estimate for the renovation, but trustee Ron Norick previously estimated the combined purchase from prior owner American Farmers and Ranchers Mutual Insurance, construction and furnishings would cost up to $22 million.