Energy Center History Tells Boom, Bust, Recovert Saga

Article excerpt

The $3.3 million gift from the Sarkeys Foundation for completion of the Energy Center at the University of Oklahoma is only the newest chapter in a nine-year saga of boom, bust and recovery.

In chronological order, here are some of the milestones along the way to funding, building and operating not just a $50 million stack of bricks and mortar, but a teaching and research center bent on becoming the best in the world:

- September, 1981 - "The world's preeminent Energy Center," in the words of University of Oklahoma President William Banowsky, is envisioned for OU's Norman campus.

OU regents, at the height of Oklahoma's oil and gas boom, give their blessing to the project and initiate a fund drive. The goal: $45 million for buildings and equipment, $20 million for endowed chairs, professorships and research programs, to bring together all of OU's energy-related disciplines.

Bill Saxon, president of Saxon Oil Co. of Dallas, pledges $30 million - $15 million for construction and $15 million for research.

- May, 1982 - OU regents approve architectural drawings and schematic designs by the Benham Group. The Energy Center is designed as an energy-efficient facility with two sprawling floors underground and a 15-story tower to be heated by an innovative "passive solar" system.

The complex will contain 340,000 square feet for 207 teaching and research laboratories, 40 offices, 20 classrooms, photographic labs, a library and study area, lounges and an auditorium.

"It will be flexible enough to accommodate a wide mix of programs, and to handle the unpredictable evolution energy may take as we approach the 21st century," Banowsky said.

- July, 1982 - Maj. Gen. Jay T. Edwards, who has announced his retirement from the U.S. Air Force and Tinker Air Force Base, is named executive director of the Energy Center.

A total of $15.7 million has been pledged to the project by 114 "Energy Center Founders," each giving at least $100,000. Three of the founders pledged $1 million or more.

The founders list includes the likes of Phillips Petroleum Co., Cities Service Co., the Dolese Foundation, Robert A. Hefner Jr. and Robert A. Henfer III, Dean A. McGee, and Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., among many others. One founding gift came in memory of Mr. S.J. Sarkeys of Norman.

Jay Edwards comes on board knowing the $30 million gift from Dallas oil man Bill Saxon probably will not to be available in time to fund construction.

- September, 1982 - Ground is broken on 7.7 acres at the southeast corner of Jenkins Ave. and Boyd St., as Phase I begins.

Acquisition of the land, clearing the site of 26 buildings on two city blocks, removing existing utilities and installing new ones, plus university start-up costs and computer hardware payments total more than $4.3 million.

- December, 1982 - Saxon's initial donation of 98,523 shares of stock in Saxon Oil, transferred to the OU Foundation one year earlier, had dropped in value from $1.07 million to less than $100,000.

- February, 1983 - The Shell Oil Foundation donates $950,000, and Atlantic Richfield Foundation donates $100,000 for computer equipment, data imaging systems and academic programs in OU college of geosciences, slated to move to the Energy Center.

- June, 1983 - Regents award a $9.2 million contract to Harmon Construction Co. of Oklahoma City, for construction of Phase II, the 108,000 square-foot, two-floor, underground laboratory base.

The regents also accept bids for Phase III, a 32,000 square-foot complex for the Oklahoma Geological Survey estimated at $4 million. The contract was to be awarded when funds became available.

Gov. George Nigh recommends $15 million in state funding for the Energy Center.

- November, 1983 - Banowsky and Edwards make a plea for more private support for the Energy Center. …