The OSU/A&M Board of Regents approved the purchase of two properties in downtown Okmulgee to be renovated into residence halls for OSU Institute of Technology students.
OSUIT will purchase property on the northeast corner of Grand Avenue and Fifth Street consisting of two connecting buildings, Okmulgee’s original post office built in 1918 and the Barksdale Apartment Building completed in 1919.
“It’s a beautiful building with a grand entrance. It has a lot of character, and it has such good bones,” said OSUIT President Bill R. Path. “It really met our criteria for student residential needs.”
The building sits a block from the Okmulgee Police Department and a block from retail businesses and restaurants.
The university will buy the half-block of buildings for $280,000 plus closing costs with renovations estimated to cost between $3 to $4 million.
“It’s a pretty major renovation— new electrical systems, new plumbing, new wiring,” Path said.
Construction is expected to start this summer and administrators hope the building is ready for up to 70 student occupants by 2017.
The second property to be purchased will be the Bell Block Building, built in 1900, on the northeast corner of Morton Avenue and Sixth Street for $95,000 plus closing costs. The estimated renovation costs are still pending.
After the former post office is renovated, work will begin on the Bell building turning the second floor into eight to 10 loft-style spaces. Administrators are going over options for the first floor, which faces downtown’s commercial stretch along Sixth Street.
“This gorgeous building has been remodeled many times over the years and housed several different retail interests, but originally served as Okmulgee’s first opera house,” Path said.
“We love the prominent location and wanted to secure the building before someone else buys it.”
The board also approved the university to begin the selection process for an architect and construction manager.
Path said renovating the historic downtown spaces is comparable, or hopefully even cheaper, than constructing new buildings on the campus.
“We could have spent a lot of money building a brand new residence hall on campus, but we can accommodate students and help out the community at the same time by renovating these historic buildings,” he said.
About a dozen members of the Okmulgee community including downtown building owners and Main Street board members were on hand for the regents’ vote.
“We know what a vital project this is for the Okmulgee community and we’re proud to be a part of it,” Board of Regents Chairman Rick Davis said during the meeting.
Former regent board member Fred Harlan, who owns the Ford dealership Fred Harlan Motor Company in Okmulgee, said he was very happy with the unanimous vote for approval.
“I’m looking forward to working with OSUIT. It’s going to be good for both the students and the community,” Harlan said. “It’s going to be exciting.”
The recent boon of other downtown Okmulgee buildings being bought and converted into commercial lofts means OSUIT can leverage its investment with the owners of these new living spaces, Path said.
“This falls squarely within the university’s land grant mission,” he said. “It is tangible community engagement for the greater good of Okmulgee and OSUIT.”