Tahlequah Daily Press

September 5, 2013

Turner: NSU’s Wilson Hall is structurally sound, will not be torn down

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — srowley@tahlequahdailypress.com

For nearly a year, Northeastern State University has worked with consultants to formulate a long-term master plan for the use of existing structures, possible new construction and to enhance the atmosphere of all three campuses.

About 40 people attended Wednesday’s penultimate open house to discuss facets of the plan with the public. Speakers were Neal Kessler and Lauren Williams of SmithGroupJJR, but its was NSU President Steve Turner who announced some news - much anticipated by many in the community - about Wilson Hall.

“We asked an engineering group to look at all the data and all the blueprints,” Turner said. “The short answer is that Wilson Hall is structurally sound.”

Turner said NSU looked at two possible uses for the closed residence hall, either to reopen it as a women’s dormitory or use it as academic space.

“It has no air conditioning,” he said. “There is nothing in it that meets [the Americans With Disabilities Act]. The plumbing is totally substandard. Moving forward, it should not be a women’s dormitory. The estimated cost to renovate it as a dormitory is 4-to-1 more than new construction.”

Using the building for other purposes was much more feasible, Turner said. NSU has gained permission from the regents of the Regional University System of Oklahoma to spend up to $3 million to protect the building, “as funds become available.”

“It can be multi-use or academic space, because conversion would be much less expensive,” he said. “While we are deciding what it should be, we want to secure the building and keep the elements out. We can repair the roof, windows and doors. So there is a plan to protect the building at this point.”

While there will continue to be a Wilson Hall, Turner said part of it may not be preserved.

“The most recent - and flood prone - part of it was added in the mid-1960s,” he said. “We are considering taking it back to its original footprint. What it will become, we are not sure yet. But Wilson Hall is protected and should be protected.”

Summarizing the preliminary master plan, Kessler said it called for turning NSU into a more pedestrian-friendly campus. Doing so would include reduction of vehicle traffic through campus by moving parking areas toward its perimeter.

While the preliminary master plan suggests many major changes to the campus configuration, many of the questions posed by the audience concerned parking. Kessler said the SmithGroupJJR study indicated that the suggested parking plan would keep NSU’s persons-to-parking space ratio at 1.7-to-1, well below the national campus average of 2.8-to-1.

“When we do these master plans, we talk about academics and buildings,” he said. “But ultimately people want to talk about parking. It is always a serious concern for those involved.”

A final open house on NSU’s master plan will be held in early December.

Online exclusive

To find out more about suggestions within the NSU master plan, visit www.tahlequahTDP.com/onlineexclusives