(Photo courtesy of OSU-Cascades)
Reevaluation of Cost & Timing on the Drawing Board
Oregon State University-Cascades Campus chiefs are pondering how to recalibrate future plans in the aftermath of the state legislature’s recent decision to allocate just $9 million toward growth goals – a fraction of the requested $69 million which had been projected as needed to keep pace with anticipated need.
Earlier this year, OSU President Edward J. Ray had urged the 2017 Oregon Legislature to provide sufficient state bonding to help fund OSU-Cascades campus expansion on Bend’s west side – with the bulk of such proceeds targeted for land development and a new academic building – to meet the escalating demand for higher education in Central Oregon and support the regional economy.
During his annual State of the University Address at Bend’s Riverhouse Convention Center, he commented, “Not meeting the demand for higher education in the fastest growing region in the state is not good public policy and makes no business sense,” adding that without adequate funding approval, the campus relatively soon would be without sufficient classroom space, possibly within the next three to four years, and would be potentially forced to turn students away.
The existing fully developed 10-acre parcel currently accommodates close to 1,100 students out of an estimated capacity of 1,800, and forecasts had indicated the campus could reach its ultimate aim of 5,000 by as soon as 2025 through development of the adjoining university-owned former pumice mine site to include a second academic building and non-classroom “Student Success Center”.
But despite intense lobbying efforts by groups such as Now4 OSU-Cascades supporters and local representatives, when the Oregon State Legislature’s budget committee rolled out a bonding package to fund key construction projects across the state at the conclusion of the 2017 session, the relatively meager allocation for the higher education vision was met with widespread disappointment in Central Oregon. Governor Kate Brown had proposed a figure of $20 million in her budget outline, but the final allocation even fell far short of that sum.
Other proposed projects across the state that received major capital infusion included $100 million to keep the Elliott State Forest in public hands and $50 million to jump-start a University of Oregon proposed $1 billion science center in cooperation with UO alumni and Nike co-founder Phil Knight.
Some have speculated that politics may have been at play in light of a Democratic-dominated House and subcommittee instrumental in the bonding decisions, while the OSU-Cascades region is represented in Salem by a solely Republican delegation.
The original OSU-Cascades’ request for $69 million included $9 million toward remediation of the 46-acre pumice mine property, $39 million for the second academic building with a $10 million private funding match, and $10 million for the Student Success Center – with students voting to tax themselves into the future via increased fees to pay off the debt for such a facility.
OSU-Cascades Vice President Becky Johnson expressed initial shock at the funding announcement, which called into question the level of state government support for the branch campus, which opened in Fall 2016, but remained stoical over attaining eventual build-out goals.
She said, “We will go back with a request for the 2018 legislative session, which being an off year in terms of the biennium budget is shorter and typically sees less activity on the capital front, but there may be some available capacity, and if necessary we will pitch again to the full session in 2019 – which may likely again see lots of projects pushing to get to top of the priority list.
“We disagree with the idea that has been touted by a few legislators that everyone in Central Oregon can pick up their lives and go somewhere else.
“We have a population of over 260,000 in our tri-county area – it is like saying to the city of Eugene-Springfield that they can’t have a university campus.
“In our enrolment and capacity projections we showed that 70 per cent of our students were from Central Oregon and 35 percent were the first in their family to go to college, with half Pell Grant government subsidy eligible.
“We may have been impacted by other major projects that came in relatively late for consideration in the bonding budget — Elliott Forest took a lot of funding capacity, as did the UO project, but we must pay tribute local legislators who were great through the process in being very supportive in promoting our cause, and doing as much as they could.
“It does make us have to rethink the pace of development of the campus. The $9 million will allow for us to pursue remediation of the former pumice mine, starting with concluding design plans regarding terracing, stabilization, geotechnical aspects and so forth.
“One thing we can do is not to be as aggressive in growing as fast. We primarily want to serve the needs here in Central Oregon and can ramp down recruitment efforts outside of the region. Outside students do bring a lot to the table, including diversity of thought and ethnicity to the area, including international students, but our number one mission is to serve Central Oregon.
“The Governor also said that the proposed expansion site was not ‘shovel-ready’ so we can work on the overall master plan that needs to be submitted and approved in the interim.”
Johnson said they were additionally trying to figure if the 72-acre Deschutes County landfill site bordering the pumice mine may be feasible for development further into the future. The university has a first right to purchase the property via a Letter of Intent as a precursor to what would likely be a relatively complex transaction in regards to coming to terms with the county.
She added: “We are looking at evaluating an estimate of cost involved in potentially developing that piece and trying to figure out the risk and dollar amount implied in the process.
“If it were possible, it would bring the overall campus site to 128 acres and open up lots of opportunities; both for athletic fields, surface parking and to promote private/public partnership through an innovation district, which is a great way to spur start-up businesses by combining university brain power and resources with entrepreneurial incubation. But we are always going to cap capacity at 5,000 students, and any additional needs beyond that could be addressed by, for example, maybe opening a campus in Redmond.”
Johnson said that if the institution got bonding authorization in 2019, the bonds wouldn’t sell until the biennium in 2021. It could borrow against such approval, but that would imply a substantial amount in interest payable and impact the scope of the project.
She added: “I must mention the amazing philanthropic support we have had locally, with donors stepping up to pledge $9 million of the $10 million matching funds required for a new academic building already just since February.
“It is inspiring that the community has risen to the challenge to this degree; but all the pledges are valid until December 2019 and subject to the legislature authorizing the $39 million for the academic building by that time. It was hard for us to go back to the donors and give them the news on the recent bonding decision; they were disappointed.
“I truly believe we will get the funding by December 2019, at least for academic building especially in light of the donation match; it just may take a little time.”
A study commissioned by the University and undertaken by ECONorthwest forecast that at the predicted full build-out of the 5,000-student campus, OSU-Cascades’ continuing operations would contribute $121.9 million in total annual economic output in Deschutes County and some 1,925 jobs.
Oregon State University’s branch campus in Bend features outstanding faculty in degree programs that reflect Central Oregon’s vibrant economy and abundant natural resources. Nearly 20 undergraduate majors, 30 minors and options, and four graduate programs include computer science, energy systems engineering, kinesiology, hospitality management, and tourism and outdoor leadership. The branch campus expanded to a four-year university in fall 2015; its new campus opened in fall 2016.