Oklahoma City University eyes downtown for law school site

Published: Friday, March 6, 2009 7:00 am By: Kelley Chambers

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma City University law school has roots downtown, and may one day be headed back there to stay.

In looking ahead at the next 20 years of the university's growth, OCU President Tom McDaniel would like to see the law school permanently move downtown.

But the school would have specific terms and ideally partner with a developer or entity that would construct a building that the law school could inhabit and rent.

McDaniel said the plan is not all that far-fetched, especially as the city looks to develop the area south of downtown over the next decades in the Core to Shore plan. He is not in negotiations with anyone but has made an offer that the law school could pay $1 million a year for the next 50 to 100 years to rent a new space downtown.

"What that does for us is we don't have to make a capital outlay and we get a great new facility," McDaniel said.

The downtown location is uncertain. McDaniel said he is open to all the options but would prefer to be close to the courthouse. He would consider existing buildings like the First National Center, or the Mid-America Tower, which will largely empty out when Devon Energy leaves for its new tower a few blocks west. Both of those are options, but unlikely.

"For us, those would both require a substantial investment simply because they're not configured in a way to accommodate a law library, or a moot courtroom or classrooms," McDaniel said.

The university also would move its law library downtown. The law school has an enrollment of 579 for spring 2009, 35 full-time faculty members and 40 adjunct faculty members.

The first version of the OCU law school was its predecessor, Epworth University, which began a law program in 1907 with 15 students. The program, then part of OCU, became defunct in the early 1930s.

Over the next decades several law programs popped up around the city, including the Oklahoma City College of Law, which was based downtown at the YMCA building on NW Second Street.

In 1952, OCU purchased the Oklahoma City College of Law and it remained at the YMCA building. The law school was moved on campus in 1956 and shared the Gold Star building. Three years later, it was moved into old barracks on the north side of campus. Two of those barracks were combined into the law building through the 1960s and 1970s.

The law school moved back to the Gold Star building in 1979, and in 1994 the Sarkeys Law Center opened facing NW 23rd Street.

McDaniel said there is the potential to expand the law school to the north by knocking down old dormitories, but he hopes the next move will be into a permanent home downtown.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett has talked with McDaniel, and leaders of other schools, about bringing educational institutions downtown.

Several schools already offer night courses and MBA programs downtown.

"It lends great vibrancy to your downtown if you can have a larger university setting," Cornett said. "You want young urban professionals feeling at home downtown."

But Cornett said the city will work with every university that might consider downtown and is not playing favorites with OCU.

"They have expressed an interest in bringing the law school downtown," he said. "That being the case, we are interested in trying to make that happen if we can."

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