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East Central University broke ground Tuesday [OCT. 18] for a 62,000-square-foot School of Business and Conference Center, and officials said noticeable changes should be visible Monday when students return to school from fall break.
Piazza Construction Ltd. of Denison, Texas, was awarded the bid to construct the three-story building at a cost of $10.65 million. Contractors planned to move in equipment on Tuesday and begin erecting a fence around the empty corner at Main and Center Streets that has been used as a parking area.
Construction is expected to take about 15 to 18 months, said ECU President John Hargrave.         
At the groundbreaking, Hargrave said the building will be completed without borrowing any money, thanks to generous donors who have contributed $12 million for the construction, furnishings and equipment. 
Among the major donors he recognized were Harland C. Stonecipher, the retired president of Pre-Paid Legal Services, and the Chickasaw Nation, represented by Gov. Bill Anoatubby.
“I never dreamed I would be standing here today breaking ground on the Harland C. Stonecipher School of Business,” said Stonecipher. “It’s quite an honor. It’s a thrill for Shirley and me to be a part of this.”
He and his wife Shirley donated $2 million toward the construction.
Stonecipher recalled growing up in a sharecropper’s shack in Coal County where the only running water they had was “when I ran and got it.”
When he enrolled at ECU, he said he had a list of things he didn’t want to be, and sharecropper was at the top of the list.
Stonecipher said he was fortunate to be born in the United States, a country built on the free enterprise system, a system that rewards everyone in direct proportion to the service they provide.
“No matter what you hear and see on TV and read about in the newspapers, this is the greatest country in the world. “It is still the land of opportunity – unlimited opportunity,” he said.
“Our ability as individuals to provide a service is where our security lies,” he added. “No job, no position, not even government assistance provides real lasting security. Security comes from each individual’s ability to provide a service, not from the federal government or anything else.”
He said that is why he and his wife are so interested in ECU’s School of Business.
Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said the Chickasaw Nation has been a partner with ECU since original Chickasaw enrollee Dan Hays donated land for the school. He predicted that the new business school will bring more students to ECU and the conference center will draw new people to Ada for conferences and to visit the Ada Arts District.
Ada Mayor Dick Scalf said he planned, organized and conducted large conferences when he worked at Kerr Lab.
“We always had to go out of town, to Oklahoma City, Dallas or Houston, because there was no place large enough here,” he said. “I think this will be a boon to this area and a magnet within southeastern Oklahoma.”
Regent Mike Turpen represented the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and Regent Connie Reilly represented the Regional University System of Oklahoma which governs ECU.
Turpen called the Stoneciphers the two most generous people he’s ever met, and Reilly said she senses the excitement as ECU continues to expand the campus and provide students with the tools to meet the demands of the 21st century.
The conference center’s unique design allows it to double as a saferoom during bad weather or a staging area in case of a disaster.The saferoom, which can hold up to 1,700 people, is possible because of a $1.46 million grant awarded to ECU by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Its main use, however, will be a conference center. It can accommodate banquet seating for 500 people or be divided into three breakout rooms.
The first floor also will house the Oklahoma Small Business Development Center, ECU Police Department, a synergistic learning center and a food court.
The Harland C. Stonecipher School of Business will be on the second floor with each classroom equipped with state-of-the-art technology.
The third floor is reserved for offices for the dean of the business school and faculty members, along with conference rooms, computer labs and a student work area.
Hargrave has said the new center will be a transitional building from the ECU campus to the Ada and business communities. It will be between the East Main Enterprise and Incubator, which helps small business start-ups and now houses two new arts-related businesses, and the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center.  
Miles Associates of Oklahoma City was the architect for the project.

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