January 17, 2003

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USAO Troutt Hall Steps
Laborers have painstakingly removed and numbered each of the cut 1910 limestone steps leading to USAO's Troutt Hall and will reassemble the giant puzzle once its new substructure is complete. The project is a gift to the University from Chickasha's Cary DeHart and CMSWillowbrook.
Historic Steps Become Novel Gift to USAO

For Christmas this year, Chickasha's Grand Ol' Lady got a gift that weighs more than a half million pounds, was too big to wrap, and didn't cost the taxpayers a red cent.

To hear Cary DeHart tell the remarkable story of his decision to rebuild the grand staircase leading to Troutt Hall -- the 1910 edifice that was the first building on the historic campus of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, it's obvious the project means a great deal to him.

"If you gage success by the opportunities you are given, then you might say these steps are a part of my steps to success," says DeHart, president of CMSWillowbrook of Chickasha. "It was 1974, and I was 21 years old and fresh out of college. After finishing my degree in construction management at Oklahoma State University, I needed a challenging project to begin my career. Back then, not everybody understood construction management as a science. I made a presentation and college officials entrusted me to renovate the Administration Building, now known as 'Troutt Hall.' They offered a very young man the opportunity to begin a career in his hometown by selecting me over a number of experienced candidates. I took a great deal of pride in that first project, and now, after many years and many projects -- schools, churches, hospitals and other facilities in dozens of communities -- I look back to USAO's project as a starting point for CMSWillowbrook."

As with most public construction projects, money was tight in 1974, and a few items got squeezed from the renovation budget. School officials elected to postpone replacing the front steps in order to renovate classrooms and offices inside.

Earlier this year, Cary DeHart approached college officials about replacing the steps, which had been discussed occasionally through the years. But this time he suggested a new approach: CMSWillowbrook would donate repair of the steps. School officials agreed enthusiastically and began working to raise an additional $20,000 in gifts to replace the top deck, which is terrazzo and scored concrete, and the hand railings -- items not included in the CMSWillowbrook project.

DeHart won't say what he's spent on repairing the crumbling structure, but administrators recall the estimate was nearly $100,000 in the 1974 renovation plan.

"This gift is priceless to us," says President John Feaver. "Given the extraordinary budget constraints in recent years, and the nearly $1 million shortfall USAO suffered during the past calendar year, this project is not something we envisioned getting done anytime soon.

"The DeHarts' generosity is an indicator of the pride and confidence that our alumni and friends have invested in USAO in recent years," Feaver explains. "We have achieved more than $23 million in non-appropriated or private investment in the past five years, a small part of that in outright gifts like the DeHart's, and we believe that USAO's future greatness will continue to depend on private partners. State funding is critical to our basic operations as a public college, but achieving excellence is possible only with many private partners."

Alumni President Flavia Bare of Oklahoma City was euphoric when she learned of the gift.

"My mother attended the Oklahoma College for Women in the 1920's, and she came back to campus for my 1949 graduation," Bare says. "Guess what she said when she came up those steps for my ceremony 54 years ago? 'You mean they STILL haven't repaired these steps yet?!' Needless to say, this is a long overdue project that alumni are very excited about. Our thanks to the DeHarts and CMSWillowbrook for embracing the vision to restore this historic campus."

"The stairs to the main entrance of Troutt Hall had been caulked and repaired many times over the years," DeHart says, "but attempts to spot-fix the steps did not work. As a result, some of the limestone blocks were continuing to shift and crack. Removal of the first section of stone made it possible to inspect the substructure underneath. It was determined that the brick walls that were holding up the steps were dangerously deteriorated."

Beginning in late November, workmen took several days to carefully dismantle the structure, gently removing, cleaning and numbering the cut stones that made up the grand staircase. Setting them back in their original place would be necessary in order to preserve the historic entry to the college.

Given USAO's new prominence as a National Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, it is critical to the University that the original integrity be preserved. "There won't be an exotic new design," DeHart adds. "Restoration of the original limestone is essential to preserving its historic appearance."

In the spring of 1999, DeHart was named "Oklahoma Builder of the Year" by the Associated General Contractors of America/Oklahoma Chapter and was featured on the cover of Builder/Architect Magazine for his dedicated efforts in preserving the integrity of historic buildings.

CMSWillowbrook projects are found in Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas. Dozens of buildings in Chickasha were erected by DeHart's team, including the elaborately restored USAO Student Center (1998) and Sparks Residence Hall (2000). In fact, DeHart has continued to serve as construction manager or consultant on several USAO projects in the last quarter century since his first in 1974.

"We are pleased to have the opportunity to help rebuild these steps after 28 years," DeHart says, "and we are proud to participate with our community in the effort to restore the historic campus of USAO."

Story Contact: Randy Talley or Jason Jewell, USAO Public Relations
Phone 405-574-1318 Fax 405-574-1377