Drive around Norman today, and you would never know the U.S. Navy once operated two bases in the city, colloquially known as North Base and South Base. But while the bases were only in operation for less than 20 years, they had a significant impact on the city of Norman and the University of Oklahoma.
Following the outbreak of World War II, OU and the Norman Chamber of Commerce petitioned the Navy to have a military base built in Norman to help with flagging enrollment numbers and tough economic times, according to Sue Schrems and Vernon Maddux on behalf of the Cleveland County Historical Society,
The Navy eventually agreed to build two military bases in Norman, one north and one south of town.
“Many Norman citizens were alarmed when they heard that it was possible that 20,000 men would be stationed in town,” Schrems and Maddux wrote. “Parents were concerned that so many young men might be a threat to the morals of their young daughters.”
Despite the moral concerns, the Navy’s entrance into Norman resulted in a huge economic progress and significant infrastructure development for the city. But the end of World War II in 1945 resulted in a deactivation of both bases the following year. This left the city and OU with an important decision — what would the fate of all of that new construction and development be?
Schrems and Maddux wrote that the city of Norman and the University of Oklahoma reached a compromise on the future of the land before applying to purchase North and South base.
“The final outcome gave the city the drill field, which became Reaves Park, the Great Oak Recreation Hall, the poll and the sewage system,” they wrote in the CCHS book “Norman’s Navy Years.” “The University of Oklahoma obtained the water system but licensed the Navy wells. The city could buy surplus university water at cost.”
OU bought the airfield tower in 1942, and purchased four runways, hangers and a cafeteria. Sooner aeronautical engineering students lived in the old Navy barracks and used the Navy recreational facilities, Schrems wrote, including the Olympic-size swimming pool.
The university ultimately acquired 607 acres and 47 buildings from the former Naval Air Technical Training Center, known as South Base.
“This included the golf course developed during the Navy’s hiatus from Norman from 1946 to 1952,” Schrems and Maddux wrote. “With this deed, the Navy’s revocable lease signed after deactivation of the bases in 1946 was void. The government retained the remaining land, to be sold later for industrial development.”
OU constructed the Swearingen Research Park on the acquired land, developing scientific buildings against the backdrop of the military facilities, Schrems wrote. The National Weather center and surrounding facilities were built on the land acquired from the Navy.
“Today, there are only a few buildings left that indicate that there were once two Navy installations in Norman,” she wrote. “Over the years, the facilities have been demolished to make way for new buildings representing a different era. One of the only buildings left is an old hanger now used for basketball.”
Just as the purchase of South Base allowed the university to expand quickly and handle the post-World War II enrollment jump, OU is continuing to expand to meet the growing demands of the 21st century. The following capital projects have been green lit by the university’s Board of Regents and will shape what the university looks like to future students.
OU plans to establish Residential Colleges as combination living and learning communities based on models at Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge, according to OU Press Secretary Corbin Wallace. The residential colleges would serve around 600 students and would include dining, faculty housing, student lounge areas and other amenities.
“The residential college concept was created at Oxford University and Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and has proven successful at colleges and universities in the United States.” Wallace said. “OU is the first university in the state and Big 12 and one of the first public universities to adopt this model. The colleges will have their own dining rooms, study areas and intramural teams, crests and mottos. Ten faculty fellows will have offices in the colleges and seminar rooms will also be included. Parking will be located nearby.”
Students who live on campus traditionally perform better in the classroom and develop more effect social skills than those who don’t. Dr. Keith Gaddie and Dr. Mark Morvant will serve as the Faculty in Resident in the two colleges.
“They will help build community and unity within their respective Residential Colleges,” Wallace said. “Dr. Gaddie and Dr. Moravnt will be the first two Senior Fellows who will live in the Residential Colleges. They will define goals and expectations while encouraging academic and social achievement and camaraderie built upon the participation of residents in “family” dinners, civic dialogue, intramurals, and college traditions, such as house motto, colors and crest.”
The colleges are currently under construction south of Lindsey between Asp and Jenkins Ave., directly south of the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, and they are projected to be completed in the fall of 2017. Their construction was made possible from the support of Tim Headington and Linda and Archie Dunham, Wallace said.
OU football fans, and anyone driving down Lindsay through the university, have noticed the ongoing construction at the stadium. The $105 million renovation project includes the completion of the bowl at the south end of the stadium, new suites, club boxes, and plazas for fans, and a new building for student-athlete services. The stadium improvements are completely funded by the Athletics Department, including private donations for special seating.
The south endzone seating bowl will increase the stadium’s seating to more than 84,000 seats, Wallace said, although future adjustments to the aisles and handrails could reduce the total number of seats
The new student services building will include a new locker room, strength and conditioning room, training room, nutrition center, meeting rooms and equipment operation, Wallace said.
“Student-athletes from all 21 OU sports will benefit from the space,” he said. “The third floor of the building will house all of the football offices and the team’s video department.”
The renovation will include additional restrooms and concessions, 22 suites, 60 open-air boxes and 1,976 club seats. Two new 3,000 open-air fan plazas, one at the southwest and one at the southeast corner, will provide fans with a view of the field.
New Physics Building
The university plans to construct a new OU physics facility and research laboratory on the Van Vleet Oval. This will house the Homer L. Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy, Wallace said. The new building, combined with Nielsen Hall, will comprise the new physics complex.
The facility, which will be located south of Nielsen Hall, will begin this fall on the site now occupied by Gittinger Hall and is expected to be completed by the spring of 2019. The 18,000 square foot facility will house research laboratory space, office space, and an astronomy observatory on the roof, Wallace said.
The facility is made possible by gifts from the Avenir Foundation and Chun C. Lin, who served on the OU physics faculty from 1955-1968.
Two generous gifts from the Avenir Foundation and Chun C. Lin, who served on the OU physics faculty from 1955 to 1968 have made it possible to help construct a new academic building and research laboratory on the Van Vleet Oval that will house the Homer L. Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy. The new building together with Nielson Hall will comprise a new physics complex.
The School of Biomedical Engineering will enroll its firsts students in the 2016 academic year, Wallace said, and will collaborate with OU-Tulsa, OU Health Sciences Center, the University of Tulsa, Laureate Institute for Brain Research, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and private companies in the medical technologies/healthcare industry.
The school’s creation was partly funded by a major gift from the Stephenson Family Foundation, pledged by Peggy and Charles Stephenson. The School of Biomedical Engineering will integrate engineering and medicine, Wallace said, and will “further develop three areas of existing strength in the College of Engineering: biomedical imaging, nano medicine and neuroengineering.”
The building will be named after Jim Gallogly, who donated to its construction, and will be located in the engineering quad on the northeast corner of the Norman campus.
Three above-ground storm-hardened shelters are going to be built to serve the residents of Traditions Square-East, Traditions Square-West and the Kraettli Apartments.
“Two additional facilities will be located at Couch and Walker Centers,” Wallace said. “The spaces are multi-use facilities so that they can be used for various student activities when they are not being utilized during severe weather events. These facilities are being funded from Series 2015A General Revenue Bond proceeds.”
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