Since the Legislature announced the dollar amount Oregon State University-Cascades would receive from the state last month, the university has been anything but tight-lipped about its disappointment. While OSU-Cascades made a $69.5 million request to keep up with the pace of enrollment, it’s set to receive $9.5 million.
So what can the university do with only a fraction of the amount it asked for?
During an OSU-Cascades Advisory and Advocacy Board meeting Thursday afternoon in Bend, Kelly Sparks, the university’s associate vice president of finance and strategic planning, said the money will help prepare the university’s former pumice mine for construction and remodel the Graduate Research Center, located off site from the new campus, to accommodate more classrooms.
For $500,000, either two or three 40-person classrooms will be added to the Graduate Research Center, on SW Columbia Street in Bend, less than a mile from the OSU-Cascades main campus. The remodeling job will also add office space for faculty. The additions will come at the cost of losing research space, which the university will have to move off site to leased space, Sparks said.
The remodel will also move reception to the main floor and add key card access to some rooms because more students will use the space than before.
The remaining $9 million, put simply, will go toward filling the pit, Sparks said. The university plans to build in the pumice mine, but first it needs to partially fill it.
Before it starts, though, OSU-Cascades has to finalize whether it will acquire an old demolition landfill from Deschutes County, located adjacent to the university campus. That’s because there are two different approaches to filling the pumice mine so it’s ready for construction: Use fill from an off-site location or from the old landfill, if the university acquires it.
Material from the old landfill can be mixed with nonorganic material, such as pumice, to be used as fill in the old mine.
Discussions between the university and county on acquiring the old landfill have been ongoing for years. OSU-Cascades has a nonbinding letter of intention with Deschutes County to acquire the old landfill, completely separate from Knott Landfill, but the agreement isn’t set yet.
Sparks hopes a decision on whether the university will acquire the old landfill will happen by the end of this month.
Becky Johnson, vice president of OSU-Cascades, also provided a reminder of how the university’s funding situation took place at Thursday’s meeting. After making its $69.5 million request, Gov. Kate Brown put $20 million in her proposed budget, Johnson said. “About halfway through the session, we got a request from the legislative fiscal office about what’s the minimum amount you would need to get that next academic building in place by the time you run out of space,” Johnson said.
After doing some analysis, the university came up with $49 million as its minimum.
“That gave us some hope that they were asking, could you do something with a little less, and then (we) were very surprised that the outcome was $9.5 million and wasn’t even the $20 million that the governor had put in her budget,” Johnson said.
The university, which opened in southwest Bend in September 2016, has one academic building, and a few classrooms in another building that also houses the dining hall.
While the university had about 1,200 students in its first academic year, it is projected it could grow to as many as 5,000 students by the year 2025.
The university was hoping to build a second academic building by 2021, but according to Sparks, that’s likely no longer feasible.
“It’s probably unrealistic at this point that we’ll open a new building by 2021 given the lack of funding,” Sparks said at Thursday’s meeting. “At this point, at the earliest, it will likely be 2022.”
Because the OSU-Cascades Advisory and Advocacy Board is not a governing body, it does not make decisions. That job is left to Oregon State University’s board of trustees in Corvallis, whose members are appointed by Brown. Instead, the advisory board’s role is to advise Johnson and provide input from the point of view of the Central Oregon community.
Board members had a number of questions for Johnson, including whether OSU-Cascades was viewed by the Legislature as its own university, as promised by the state when the OSU-Cascades campus was built.
Johnson said the bump up from seven major universities to eight and the resulting increase from “seven to eight mouths to feed did not play well in the Legislature.” Johnson believes many legislators would prefer OSU-Cascades fall under the responsibility of Oregon State University.
“But OSU-Cascades was created not because OSU in Corvallis wanted to create it, it was because Central Oregon said we need higher education here, and the state itself made that decision that we’re going to invest in an institution in Central Oregon and we’re going to fund it separately,” Johnson said.
Another board member asked Johnson if other institutions received the money they wanted.
“What they said at the end of the session was, they gave about $50 million to all three of the big universities and they lumped us in with OSU,” Johnson said, adding that works against OSU-Cascades.
But if the state’s funding for OSU-Cascades was disappointing, it wasn’t discouraging, at least for Johnson. Supporters and legislators are encouraging the university to go back to the Legislature in 2018 and 2019 to ask for more money: So for Johnson, advocacy board members and other supporters, it’s more trips to Salem ahead.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org