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Casey Shell and Ron Tarbutton

OSU Chief Facilities Officer retires, Shell fills role

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Media Contact: Shannon Rigsby | Associate Director of Public Information | 405-744-9081 |

On Dec. 21, Ron Tarbutton retired as chief facilities officer at Oklahoma State University.

ron tarbutton
Ron Tarbutton

The decision made his journey come full circle, as he closes out his professional career at the same place it got started.  

Tarbutton earned his degree in electrical engineering from OSU in 1981 and met his wife, Liz, in the student section of the football stadium. After eight years in the Air Force, Ron spent the next 42 years working in the world of facilities, from private companies and K-12 schools to hospitals and universities. Through it all, he and Liz had season tickets to Cowboy football games and a storage unit west of town to stash all their tailgating gear. 

In 2013, he was the director of the physical plant at Texas Woman’s University. He loved the job, and as a family, they loved the town of Denton. 

But not quite as much as they loved OSU. 

One day, Liz ran across a job posting for the OSU physical plant and asked Ron if he would be interested. 

“I told her, ‘That’s about the only thing I would be interested in,’” Ron said. “We were very happy where we were, but we love OSU and four generations prove that. It was an opportunity to come and give back. We were already thinking we love OSU so much. If we come back, we’ll go to more sporting events, music events.” 

Born and raised in Edmond, his family remained in Oklahoma. Although he wasn’t ready to retire, it was time to start making plans. 

“I got the interview and boom, I was selected,” Ron said. “It was meant to be.” 

He started in Operations and Maintenance and then seven years ago he became Facilities Managements chief facilities officer. 

Early on, he asked himself “Why does Facilities Management exist?” 

“We exist because of the students, so what are we doing to make life better for them?” Ron said. “Are we helping to recruit and retain students, faculty and staff to have a pleasant place to come to? You have academics and athletics, but our piece of it is the structure and the infrastructure — the buildings, the grounds, the operation of the buildings. And then we take a professional approach to how we stay focused on a plan and prepare for the future. You get more done with a plan than just doing random things each day.” 

He started taking the prospective student tours after he first joined FM, stopping where the tours stopped. Little things began to catch his eye from a handrail or a retaining wall that needed attention to mismatched colored light from the outdoor lamps. 

“Having lights of different colors drove me crazy,” he said. “The uniformity of the campus is part of its architectural style. When we started doing the campus tours many years ago, you see what [the visitors] see. You think, ‘Oh my gosh. We’ve got company coming and we thought we picked up, but they stopped here.’ So we made a specific focus on areas that were going to have the greatest impact.” 

Since Ron has been at FM, OSU has won three national awards, including one grand award for most outstanding landscape at a large college. The award that means the most to him is one that was given for their commitment to collaborating for student success. 

“Every year, we have students from majors like engineering and architecture who go through equipment rooms, take tours and get real-world experience of the operation of commercial buildings,” he said. “The entire campus can be a cost effective learning lab.” 

For Ron, it has been as much about the people as it has been about the buildings and grounds. He wants to retire now while he and Liz can enjoy travel, grandkids and a few more OSU events each month. 

“The university is growing,” he said. “I like to think we’ve had a little bit to do with that.” 

Shell fills the role

New Chief Facilities Officer Casey Shell is no stranger to Oklahoma State University, or Stillwater for that matter.

Casey Shell
Casey Shell

Shell has a degree in civil engineering and spent 32 years with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. In 1986, he was hired along with 29 other engineers. For the first year, the recruits rotated, trying different areas from roadway designer to bridge construction. Throughout the rotations, Shell knew one thing: he wanted to be working outside.

 He got his wish as his first permanent assignment was in Stillwater as a construction inspector, and he never left. 

“My wife was teaching in Stillwater and my kids were in school in Stillwater. We started our family here, and we just didn’t want to leave,” he said. “My wife, Beth, and both our children, Parker and Darby, have graduated from OSU.” 

Even for the last 10 years at ODOT when he had to commute to Oklahoma City, Shell was willing to deal with the 140 miles round trip to come home every night to Stillwater. 

When he decided to retire but wasn’t ready to quit working, OSU had an opening. He was hired five years ago to open the Office of University Planning, primarily dealing with issues management. 

One of his more memorable projects was reigning in the influx of electric scooters. 

“Remember when the scooters dropped into town? Seemed like overnight and they were littering the campus, creating tripping hazards and blocking ADA entrances,” Shell said. “I did research around the country and created a bid document. Based on the contract, we could control what company served the campus. We can geofence where the scooters can go and how fast they can go in some areas. We can also ‘encourage’ riders to park them in approved spots, otherwise their meter will keep running.” 

Shell was also heavily involved in studying classroom utilization and ensuring accessibility across campus. 

He’s honored to be chosen to fill the shoes of outgoing Chief Facilities Officer Ron Tarbutton. The two served in tandem from October 2023 until Tarbutton retired in December. 

“It was a great value to me to be able to work side-by-side with Ron before he retired,” he said. “I am excited about this new role. I am back in my comfort zone. I love working with the people — entry level up to management. I love doing what I can for the labor force and retaining quality workers.” 

During his time in university planning, Shell learned the inner workings of OSU, met many people and feels ready to take on the next challenge. And it’s in a role that is a comfortable fit. 

“In every way, I feel like I’m home,” he said. 

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