Last week, University Center of Southern Oklahoma administrators and board members celebrated the school becoming land owners for the first time in its 40-year history.
UCSO director and CEO Dr. Steve Mills said on April 23 the school received the deed of property for the new campus, which was purchased with private donations. The 103-acre site is located north and adjacent to Ardmore City Schools’ property. The new campus entrance will be on Mt. Washington Road.
“It is really significant,” Mills says. “In 40 years, we have never owned property ... we’ve been going through the process of getting the property platted and zoned, which then we can get the building permits.”
Since the early 1980s, UCSO, formerly called Ardmore Higher Education Center, has made its home in a building located on property owned by the Ardmore school district. Prior to that building, the school operated in classrooms in Ardmore High School.
These days, the school offers college courses to 1,800 southern Oklahoma students each semester. Two Oklahoma regional universities and two Oklahoma community colleges cooperate to provide those courses and degree programs. Classes meet at the UCSO building and mobile classrooms, as well as classrooms at AHS in the evening.
Growth in programs and interests by potential students has caused UCSO to strive for its own campus, a campus that would allow UCSO to continue to provide higher education opportunities and potentially accommodate campus expansion for additional academic buildings in the future.
Mills says for the past 10 years the school has been working toward the goal of having its own campus. Many properties in the Ardmore area were examined, and the board took a building project, which included a fitness center, as a tax issue to the voters. The tax initiative failed in a November 2012 election and the UC Board of Trustees and administration re-examined the project, cutting the fitness center.
Last spring, the school kicked off a capital campaign in hopes of raising $17.5 million for the construction of the Health, Science and Math building, a 49,000-square-foot building to house the East Central University nursing program and Southeastern Oklahoma State University’s business program.
Mills says UCSO has raised around $15 million for the project, and expects to finalized the campaign drive with the remaining $2.5 million by the time construction crews hit the property.
Additionally, UCSO is seeking donation for the Pave-The-Way campaign, which will be applied to the facilities maintenance endowment, a permanent fund used to underwrite the future maintenance costs of the new campus. Pave-The-Way is a brick campaign giving individuals and businesses the opportunity to support UCSO and leave a legacy on the campus.
Mills says the school has in the works a finalized plat and will soon seek zoning requests and building permits.
“We are ready to go,” Mills says. “This opens the door for us to complete that process. Hopefully, we can start construction by this summer or late summer going into early fall.”
Mills says once construction starts, it will take 19 months before the Health, Science and Math building can open for students and staff.
The first building on the campus will house laboratories, classrooms and faculty offices for all nursing, science and math programs. Phase 2 of the campus project calls for the construction of the academic and administrative center. Once the second building is opened, UCSO will move all operations to the new campus and vacate the current facility on Veterans Boulevard.
Following completion of the first phase, UCSO will kick off the capital campaign for Phase 2, Mills says.
Mills said the southern Oklahoma community has embraced the capital campaign and has been supportive of UCSO’s future.
“I think it is significant that we are able to do this because of this community,” Mills said. “We are not getting help from the state. This is the southern Oklahoma community doing this because the presence of higher education is so important for economic development and progress in our community. We appreciate all the generosity and support from the individuals, businesses and foundations.”