STILLWATER (By: Molly M. Fleming | The Journal Record, April 12, 2018) – The Spears School of Business strives to recruit top-level students, but that was hard to do while being spread across six buildings.
Nearly every other Big 12 business school had either moved into a new building or had an addition to its existing space. Oklahoma State University’s Spears School was the only program that was still making do with what it had.
“We are in competition for students,” said Ken Eastman, business school dean. “We are recruiting not just from Oklahoma, but from surrounding states. Having a building that was limited in terms of space and opportunity made it difficult for us to compete for the best and the brightest.”
The Spears School administration started working on a new building several years ago before Eastman took the helm. When he became dean in 2013, the project had a $90 million budget and was going to measure 270,000 square feet.
Eastman said he thought that plan was more space than the school needed and would cost more money than the school could afford. The $90 million price tag seemed like an unattainable fundraising goal, so people may not even try to reach it, he said.
By 2014, the project cost has been lowered to about $70 million, which is when Oklahoma City-based Elliott and Associates won the bid to design the building. Principal Rand Elliott is an OSU alumnus.
Elliott said one of the first changes to the project was taking out the atrium, which his team didn’t see as necessary. Mike Mays and Scott Brelsford were the project architects.
“We were able to re-envision what the possibilities were,” Elliott said.
For the building’s exterior design, there were many possibilities – 37 to be exact – and they all used the campus’ Georgian architectural style. The building faces S. Hester Street, with the Civil Engineering Building across the street and T. Boone Pickens Stadium’s parking lot next door.
One of the schematics became the final design. The building wraps around a courtyard, creating a crescent shape. And despite it being at a university with a mascot who is a cowboy, the building isn’t a horseshoe, Elliott said.
The crescent shape is a prevalent shape in Bath, England, and the design can be connected back to King George, for whom Georgian architecture is named.
When the design ideas turned to the inside, the architecture team talked to students, faculty members, and alumni to hear what they’d want to see. Eastman said a student poll showed they had two requests: Wi-Fi everywhere and a coffee shop. The students wanted a place where they could spend time, and not just pass through on their way to classes.
That’s what Elliott’s team put into his design. He said when talking to all the parties involved, interactivity was a common phrase.
“They wanted a building that was friendly and felt like a coffee shop,” he said.
Elliott’s team put places in the 170,000-square-foot building where students could lounge, work on homework, and perhaps run into a professor. The spaces are also welcoming to faculty members, who for the first time are all under one roof.
“We really wanted people to hang around the building,” Elliott said. “And they really wanted that, too. (The faculty and students) felt like if there were places to hang out, then they would stay.”
But the attractive plan, no matter how innovative, needed money to make it a reality. OSU Foundation’s Diane Crane led the fundraising for the school. Her goal was $40 million, and as of last week, the foundation had raised $37 million.
More than half the money came from private donors, with more than 700 people chipping into the project. Contributions ranged from one dollar to $7.5 million. But there was no lead donor, which was surprising to Crane. This was her first big project in Oklahoma, having last done fundraising at the University of North Texas.
“One of the things I learned about Oklahomans is they’re really modest people,” she said. “For them, the motivation wasn’t about putting their name up. Some of our largest gifts people gave without putting their name up. They knew this building was important to the students.”
The building’s interior finishes look more like a C-suite office than a learning space, which was done intentionally, Elliott said. There are formal areas for events, and the furniture can be moved for activities. Elliott said the idea was that if the building looked more like an office than a school, it could help instill the formality of being in the business world.
“This is not a playground,” he said. “It’s not an athletic facility. It’s a business building. It should fit that purpose.”
Students moved in on Jan. 16. Eastman said he spent a lot of time just walking the halls on that day, watching their reactions. He heard students exclaiming that the space was amazing and that they couldn’t believe it was for them.
This spring, he’s looking forward to giving tours to high school students. The Spears School changed its curriculum to include more interaction so people would have to use the new spaces.
He and other business school staff members will be giving tours Friday during the grand opening celebration.
Crane said she walked through the building on Jan. 16 as well. It was emotional to see the students, then share photos of that day with the donors.
“The expression on our students’ faces when they came into the building was priceless,” she said. “They loved the space. They enjoy being there. They’re interacting with each other and the faculty. They’re creating a culture within the building.”