WOU project gets green light




By Aaron Newton
Polk County Itemizer-Observer

Western Oregon University received some nice gifts from the Oregon State Legislature in the waning days of the 2013 legislative session.

Of the several bills that passed through the legislature impacting schools across the Oregon University System, the two most important to Western were the green lighting of the new College of Education building and extra funding to reduce the recently approved tuition increases (see story, Page 16A).

Western has had its eyes set on a new education facility for some time and met with the legislature several times during the 2013 session about the need for the new building.

“We’ve been having conversations about this for a couple of years,” Mark Girod, interim dean of the College of Education, said. “This isn’t a new conversation for us on campus.”

The new facility is projected to cost $18.6 million — $17.2 million from the state and $1.4 million from donor support.

No general funds from the university will go toward the building, something administrators were quick to stress.

“We have to raise $1.4 million internally. The rest comes from the state, so it has nothing to do with tuition dollars,” Tom Neal, physical plant director, said. “The last thing we want to do is raise their (the students’) tuition.”

The roughly 59,000-square-foot facility will group the College of Education under one roof.

The three buildings currently used to house the college will be used as a temporary setup for other departments on campus whose buildings are in need of renovation.

Though the project now has the go-ahead, students won’t see any action on the proposed site — the open lawn space between Hamersly Library and the Oregon Military Academy — until at least summer 2015.

“It depends on when the legislature, I’ve still got to get the details, but normally they sell the bonds for a project like this at the end of their biennium,” Neal said. “They would be sold probably spring of 2015. More than likely we’d be looking at a summer of 2015 groundbreaking and open for business fall of 2016.”

Girod has high hopes for what the new building will do for WOU.

Having the entire college under one roof coupled with state-of-the-art technology have the potential for students and staff alike to collaborate in ways few have experienced at Western, Girod said.

“Of course we will build a building that has as much technology as we can fit into it. You don’t get these kinds of opportunities very often,” Girod said. “The changing nature of education — you show up to class and professors tell you what you need to know, that’s not really how things work anymore.”

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