The Oklahoma City University Board of Trustees this morning approved a proposal for its law school to move downtown into the former Central High School at 800 N. Harvey.
“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.
OCU officials are now planning for renovations to make the building suitable for law school usage. The building currently houses offices for American Farmers and Ranchers Mutual Insurance Company.
The university will begin planning the logistics of the move in coming months, with hopes of opening for classes at the downtown location in 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.
The historic Gothic-style building was constructed in 1910 and is on the National Register of Historic Buildings. It has approximately 177,000 square feet. The structure was designed by Solomon Andrew Layton, who designed many other significant buildings in the state including the State Capitol, Skirvin Hotel and structures on the OCU campus.
The move comes with unanimous support of the law school’s faculty and administrators, who see it 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 says 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. Today’s decision positions Oklahoma City University for a new period of growth and excellence.”
The move also will mean an economic boost for downtown thanks to approximately 550 students, and nearly 100 faculty, staff and administrators working in the city’s core. The move is expected to coincide with Project 180, a massive downtown-wide improvement project that is scheduled to be completed in 2014.
Civic leader and OCU Trustee Chairman Ron 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.”
While the move downtown is seen as a big opportunity for future students, current students are also excited about the prospect. Chelsea Klinglesmith Estes, a third-year law student and student ambassador in the Admissions Office, talks with students when they are in the midst of deciding where to attend law school.
“The caliber of our faculty and the hands-on experiences offered through our clinics and externships are remarkable. I know I’m receiving the best legal education,” Estes said. “When I think about the transition from student to alumnus in a few short months, the move downtown will only enhance my connection to and pride for my future alma mater.”
The ability to match the educational opportunity Oklahoma City University School of Law offers its students with world-class, technologically advanced facilities in the heart of the city is unequalled in the state and region, Estes added.
“As a student ambassador, with insight into the decision-making process of potential students, I think the move downtown will give our students new experiences and opportunities because of the proximity to the courts, law firms, businesses and government,” she said. “It will also appeal to an entirely new group of students — those looking to attend a law school in the heart of a metropolitan area with walking access to just about anything.”
Meanwhile, Oklahoma City University School of Law’s move will free up two major buildings on campus – the Gold Star Memorial building and Sarkeys Law Center – along with dormitory rooms for other campus uses.