Old North: The Ship Inside the Bottle Proves Costly

Old North: The Ship Inside the Bottle Proves Costly

The completion of construction on Old North has been pushed back from summer to late October. The iconic building is located on the west side of campus. Photo by Cara Johnson, the Vista. 

Facing setbacks and extra costs, construction crews for Old North have been given an extension on finishing the building until October, as crews failed to meet the summer deadline with changes to the structure.

Old North is being renovated by CMS Willowbrook, a construction company out of Oklahoma City, who also renovated Old Central at Oklahoma State University.

“This building is not built like other buildings,” said David Stapleton, architect for the University of Central Oklahoma. “Willowbrook should have come back and said it could not be done [that quickly].”


The renovation setbacks are due to recent upsurges in earthquakes, and architects with the university decided that strengthening the building was needed, knowing that it would extend the deadline.

“The project is really a success story,” Stapleton said. He believes that once the building is finished, it will be able to last another century.

Earthquake-proofing Old North was not drafted in the final interior phase of the building, though Stapleton decided that the upgrade was needed by reinforcing the building with steel I-beams.

“When we had the drafted documents, we did not know that the architect wanted to include [earthquake proofing],” said Cary Dehart, President of CMS Willowbrook. He explained that the cost had been absorbed during the construction phase.

Construction crews also ran into problems with underground utilities. Dehart said it was a problem that they had not expected but that it was common with older buildings.

“Old North was built on sandstone and mortar, which was not the strongest material … that is all they had though,” Dehart said.

Old North was contracted to be completed in July; however, the date has been moved to the end of October. The university will take control of the building to move in furniture and prepare the building for opening in January after construction crews have finished.

Opening August 2016!

A photo posted by University of Central Oklahoma (@ucobronchos) on

“For the type of project we are dealing with, we are doing extremely well,” Dehart said. “We are going to have to push every day so that we are there to get everything completed.”

He said that despite the setbacks and changes asked by the university, his crews cannot do the job quickly and risk problems later on.


Total cost for the final phase of the building is at $8.45 million, Stapleton said, which is still on budget. To keep the budget on track, cuts have had to be made to Information Technology and in the purchasing of new furniture.

CMS Willowbrook was awarded two contracts for the building, totaling $7.7 million, with the first contract for interior improvements of the building.

The interior was completely gutted and was funded by the first contract, which is currently $6.4 million, with crews rebuilding each floor in the building.

The second contract, which is for exterior renovations, includes new sidewalks, parking and other renovations. Currently, $1.3 million has been awarded and is expected to rise to $1.6 million by the completion date of the project.

Finishing the building is expected to cost around $800,000, which includes new equipment for the building and other interior furnishings.

“We have tried to absorb most of the extra costs,” Dehart said. “Budget-wise, we can only absorb so much in the construction phase.”

The building was mostly financed by the Always Central campaign, which raised $3.5 million for the building, and the remainder came from different colleges across the university, explained Anne Holzberlein, president of the UCO Foundation.

“Old North is a very complicated building, and it must be done right,” Stapleton said. “We gave Willowbrook extra work.”

Old North was closed in July of 2001 and has had multiple repairs since, including a $5 million bond to fix the exterior of the building.

“The renovations and construction are components of a long-term vision and plan that cannot and does not depend on annual state appropriations,” Don Betz, president of UCO, said at Fall Forum.

The final phase also included exterior renovations with new vapor-proofing for the foundation, which will prevent water from seeping into the building—a problem that has occurred before.

“We offset the extra expenses by reducing other areas,” Stapleton said. “The building gives up little secrets every once and a while.”

Many other project managers declined to an interview about the progress of construction, though many said that the university had requested extra work throughout the building.


The first floor of the building will be occupied by the College of Education, which will include testing areas, faculty offices and two conference rooms that will also double as storm shelters.

The second floor will contain the Territorial Library and five classrooms to be used by each college from around campus. In addition, there will be several student study rooms with a vending area.

The third floor will include the president’s suite, Territorial Lounge, MidFirst Leadership Conference Room and two multi-purpose rooms.

The fourth floor will contain the Student Affair offices and a multi-purpose room. Additionally, the floor will contain a gallery of historical items, the original clock tower mechanism and have artwork on display.

The information for floor plans was given by Stapleton.

“Old North is coming to life in a brand new way, and hopefully by the end of the year we will be able to invite all of you to come and see what the next 120 years … will be,” Betz said.

The new drive up to Old North is still on track and is planned to be completed in early September.

Share This


Disqus ( )