Central suitor

OCU officials said moving the law school into the historic structure on the 800 block of N. Robinson Avenue will put students and faculty closer to the law firms and courthouses downtown.

Constructed in 1910, the old Central High building operated as a high school until 1968, when it became a junior high. In 1981, the building was purchased by Southwestern Bell Corp and, 24 years later, by the insurance company.

OCU law Dean Valerie Couch said she has been interested in the building since shortly after joining the university early this year. The law school currently is spread out over four buildings.

Couch, a former U.S. magistrate judge, said bringing the school’s 600 students and 100 faculty and staff under one roof would have clear advantages.

“When we learned about this building and I started focusing on it, it did seem like a great solution,” she said.

“Not only does it appear to be sufficient to bring everyone together, but it’s downtown, where our students can benefit from being so near the federal and state courthouses, the law firms, the corporate headquarters of major oil and gas firms, and the state and government regulatory agencies are down there.”

OCU law school leaders have hoped to move downtown for several years. In 2009, the school appeared poised to buy the old Fred Jones building at 900 W. Main, but renovation and maintenance was deemed too costly.

Now that American Farmers & Ranchers has accepted OCU’s bid — the asking price had been $11.5 million — Couch said the law school will proceed with inspections of the building.

“Although we have walked through the building, looked at the floor plans
and received preliminary information, additional detailed inspections by
professionals and review of documents will enable us to confirm that
the building is in acceptable condition and will work for the law
school’s purposes,” she said.

Valerie Couch

“We anticipate we will restore the auditorium and maintain the museum
room, which reflect so much of the history of the building. And we will
be restoring the building to its original use as a school.”

OKC Public Schools Superintendent Karl Springer said the district had hoped to recapture part of its history by moving its administrative offices into the old Central High.

“It’s a landmark,” he said. “It’s the first really large building Oklahoma City produced.”

Couch said she sympathized with the school district’s desire to move their administrative offices from N. Klein Avenue.

“They do need a new building. They’re in a deteriorated, crumbling, unhealthy building,” Couch said of OKCPS. “I hope for them to find a wonderful space. But I see some clear advantages to having the law school in this building, and the law students and faculty and staff that would move to this area would be so beneficial for downtown.”

Clifton Adcock

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