Preserving Old North

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UCO Campus architect David Stapleton stands in front of Old North, one of the state’s oldest building dedicated to higher education. Photo by Brent Fuchs.

Old North Tower, a revered icon at the University of Central Oklahoma, is undergoing a multimillion dollar renovation that will give the building a new lease on life.

When David Stapleton, UCO’s architect and director, toured the building in 2000, he saw a structure begging for help.

“The floors were like trampolines,” he recalls. “The closer you got to the center of a room, the bigger the bounce. The structure was overloaded. I questioned what the builders were doing in 1892 when they constructed Old North for $50,000.

“There were no Lowe’s or Home Depots in that era. The builders used whatever was available on trains passing through Edmond,” Stapleton adds. “Old North was architecturally and structurally decrepit. Its flaws seemed to come from the timbers. As wood distorts, it sags, stretches and cracks. It gives a warning that says, ‘You shouldn’t be here.’”

The building was first deemed derelict in 1906.

“Decrepit is a nice word to describe the structure,” Stapleton says. “The four-story building was cobbled together with inadequate materials, even for that era. Floor and ceiling heights were inconsistent. Most of the workmen were likely unskilled in construction.”

UCO President Don Betz recalls that 2000 visit to Old North 14 years ago.

“I was provost then, and after touring the building, [Stapleton] and I decided it needed to be closed for safety reasons,” Betz says.

“In late 2000 it became apparent the exterior could be repaired,” Stapleton says. “However, the interior was a major issue. When the building closed in July 2001, planning studies began regarding renovation.”

Demolishing Old North seemed unthinkable. Its rich history resonates with students, faculty and alumnae.

“Old North opened Jan. 3, 1893, as a Normal School to train teachers. It was one of the earliest buildings in Oklahoma devoted to higher education,” Betz notes. “The men and women who first came here arrived with a passion for training teachers.”

Through the years, Old North was frequently repaired. In 1996 and 2006, two bond issues provided $5.5 million for exterior repairs. The third phase has received $6 million; $800,000 is needed for completion.

Randy Ross, a UCO Foundation Board member, and Dr. Lee Beasley, campaign co-chairman, take pride in UCO’s landmark symbol. Both attended classes in Old North and enjoy representing the college as alumnae.

Betz became UCO president in 2011 and made Old North a completion priority for UCO’s 125th anniversary, which will be celebrated in December. Occupancy is scheduled for 2016.

When completed, Old North will house classrooms, conference areas and historical displays that will fill the 40,000-square-foot structure. With a nostalgic nod to history, several areas will resemble a 125-year-old building.

“I want to see this building alive again with the hopes and dreams of students who will leave UCO with a great education and a great experience in a unique building,” Stapleton says.

“Looking up at the clock tower reminds me of Old North’s historic role as a seat of higher learning from the first days of Oklahoma Territory,” says Betz, “and of the continuing responsibility we embrace to offer exceptional education and access to those we serve every day.”

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