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Robertson Hall to once again provide students a home away from home


A merged image showing the old and new Robertson Hall

Robertson Hall to once again provide students a home away from home

 

By the mid-1930s, the Oklahoma College for Women was growing at a rapid pace. As more and more women sought to enter the workforce, the demand for proper education increased as well. To help meet this demand, OCW embarked on a building project that resulted in three new residence halls: Canning, Lawson and Robertson. Each dormitory housed 40 juniors and seniors along with a hostess.

As the college’s mission evolved and enrollment fluctuated over the years, there were simply not enough students to fill Robertson Hall to capacity. During the spring 1984 semester, only 14 students were living in the hall, and, at the end of that term, the Regents approved the decision to shutter the building.

Since its closing, there have been many different ideas about how to renovate the space, including creating an art gallery and an economic development center, but in the spring of 2016, USAO’s executive council decided to refocus on its historic purpose as a residence hall.

“Our first step in getting this project off the ground was looking at funding sources,” said Mike Coponiti, vice president of personnel and business. “Then we engaged an architect and construction manager to assist in design and cost estimates. Ultimately, the renovation was funded by university capital funds and a private gift through the USAO Foundation, Inc.”

While there are several decommissioned buildings on campus, Robertson Hall was chosen as one of the first to renovate because “the building could be revitalized with existing funds, while other buildings that are currently offline will require a more creative funding strategy,” said Coponiti.

Since the campus has been designated a National Historic District, any renovation is complicated by the fact that the building must be restored largely in its original condition, which rarely accommodates modern conveniences easily.

“Dealing with mechanical issues like HVAC, plumbing and electricity is always challenging when you are trying to work within existing ceiling heights and slab concrete floors that were not designed for all the penetrations required for today’s systems,” said Coponiti. “But it is very rewarding to see a project like Robertson Hall brought back to its historic purpose and maintain its original architectural style.”

The Chickasha Chamber of Commerce will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the renovation on April 3, starting at 3:30 p.m. The hall will be officially opened to both male and female students for the summer 2018 trimester. Attendees to the ribbon cutting are asked to bring a food or monetary donation for the USAO Campus Co-op. The co-op helps students who face food insecurity. It is stocked through fundraising and on- and off-campus donations of perishable and non-perishable items.

“Housing occupancy has been close to capacity for the past few years,” said Monica Trevino, vice president for enrollment management and student affairs. “With the increase in recruitment and student persistence efforts, it is important that we provide additional quality housing options for students who want the residential college experience.”

The restoration of Robertson Hall is part of more than a decade of capital projects designed to beautify the USAO campus, improve the educational opportunities for students, and enhance to quality of life for everyone involved with the institution.

“Our strategic goal is to restore all of the buildings listed on the National Register,” said President John Feaver. “With Robertson back online, it leaves three major restoration projects: Willard Hall, Addams Hall and the Historic Gymnasium. Willard is a top priority because projected enrollment increases are going to require more campus housing beyond what Robertson adds.”

The restored Willard Hall will include a combination of student housing and offices. Additional capital projects include more public art and beautification plans for the campus; upgrades to Nash Library and the Student Center; and more lighting, sidewalks and safety signs.