Gary A. Warner
The Bulletin

University construction priorities

The Higher Education Coordinating Commission ranks individual university capital project proposals on a 100-point scale. The list does not include $65 million for maintenance and improvements. Below are the points rating and total cost of each project.

1. Oregon State University Cordley Hall Renovation, Phase II 75.14 $56 million

2. Oregon Institute of Technology Boivin Hall Rehabilitation 74.00 $19.4 million

3. Western Oregon University Student Success Center 72.00 $15 million

4. UO Huestis Hall Deferred Maintenance 71.00 $60 million

5. OSU Arts and Education Complex 69.14 $70 million

6. Eastern Oregon University Inlow Hall Renovation, Phase II 69.00 $9.5 million

7. Portland Statue University B1 Renovation & Expansion 67.29 $83 million

8. WOU Physical Education Building Addition & Remodel 66.33 $15 million

9. Southern Oregon University Music Hall – Mechanical & ADA 61.00 $8 million

10. OSU-Cascades Student Success Center 60.00 $17 million

11. SOU Britt Hall – Mechanical 57.00 $4 million

12. SOU Cascade Hall Demolition 45.00 $2.5 million

13. EOU Inlow Hall Grand Staircase Replacement 43.00 $3 million

14. OSU-CC Land Development 38.91 $17.5 million

Source: Higher Education Coordinating Commission

SALEM — Oregon State University-Cascades’ place near the bottom of the state’s university construction priority list is unlikely to change despite a major review of how decisions on what gets built are made.

The Higher Education Coordinating Commission, which controls funds for university construction, is revising it’s “rubric,” the formula for ranking construction and renovation projects. The review will be done by the beginning of the 2020 session of the Legislature, when lawmakers could dole out up to $300 million for projects.

OSU-Cascades wants $17 million in state bonds to build a Student Success Center, the planned hub of the growing Bend campus, which would include counseling offices and student meeting areas.

But the project is currently ranked 10th out of 14 individual projects on HECC’s rubric. As it stands, OSU-Cascades officials have said they could miss out on any funding before 2022. Another OSU-Cascades proposal asking for $17.5 million for land development is ranked last at 14th.

Kate Kondayen, deputy communication director for Gov. Kate Brown, said the governor’s top university capital priority is her proposed $65 million for 2019 to catch up on deferred maintenance at Oregon’s seven public universities.

“She also is firm on reserving at least $225 million in the upcoming biennium for additional university progress,” Kondayen said. The governor hopes that an additional $100 million is available, but Kondayen said Brown did not know when the Legislature might consider the increase.

In an August 2018 letter to Brown, HECC chair Neil Bryant singled out the last-place OSU-Cascades project as an example of how current rubric leans heavily on short-term renovation and construction.

“Projects that do not directly result in student-serving facilities are unlikely to score highly,” Bryant wrote. “For example, an OSU-Cascades request for 2017 funding to conduct costly site preparation scored poorly using the rubric due to the fact that the project itself did not directly result in a facility that eases capacity constraint, supports student completion, or other strategic goals of the HECC — and in spite of the fact that it was a necessary pre-condition to construction of a building that would earn points in those categories.”

Jim Pinkard, director of HECC’s office of postsecondary finance and capital, said commission officials know the priority list has critics.

“The rubric is not the perfect silver bullet solution,” Pinkard said.

HECC’s review of the formula over the next several months is designed to make the list even more rigorous and objective, Pinkard said. But he cautioned that it’s unlikely to mean a shift upward in OSU-Cascades’ places on the list.

“I don’t think there are going to be huge wholesale changes to the rubric,” Pinkard said. “If there aren’t substantial changes to the rubric and there aren’t a substantial number of new projects, the priority position would not change dramatically.”

In the end, the Legislature and governor will decide which university gets what. Brown’s surprise 2018 supplemental capital construction budget that included $39 million for a second academic building at OSU-Cascades was seen by some lawmakers as an end-around on the HECC priority process.

Pinkard said the priority list is only as good as political leaders’ decision to follow it or not.

“The value the state is going to get out of strategic planning depends on the Legislature’s buy-in to the plan and if they allow it to play out,” he said.

In the Legislature

Questions of policy and politics were at the forefront of a May 3 hearing of the Capital Construction Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Ways & Means. The panel’s members are made up of senior lawmakers, including both House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. They will draw up the final university capital budget for a vote by the Legislature near the end of the 2019 session next month.

At the hearing, lawmakers on the panel had often sharp questions and comments about the HECC rubric.

“I have a slight doubt that sausage-making politics can be laid aside by the better angels of our nature, so to speak, in long-term planning,” said Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte. “I hope it can.”

Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, said one university president told the scramble for capital dollars often pits schools against each other.

“They said the Legislature’s parsimony in giving out money causes us to have to cannibalize each other,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she wanted a priority list that was stringent enough to withstand the intercollegiate warfare, so money requests “would not make us pick the children we like best.”

“We need some objective criteria that help insulate against the politics of a political process,” Johnson said.

Pinkard said HECC teams have visited all the public university campuses to get feedback on the priority list and other matters.

The OSU-Cascades stop, Pickard said, was “highly structured.”

“They did not speak at length about their thoughts on the rubric,” he said.

OSU-Cascades officials said they didn’t give an opinion because HECC didn’t specifically ask.

“It did not invite us to provide direct input on the rubric,” said Blair Garland, a spokesman for OSU-Cascades. “However, they left us with a survey, where we can comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the rubric. We plan to submit our answers in the coming weeks.

HECC is scheduled to return to Bend on June 26 to hear from educators and civic and business leaders about the campus and HECC’s proposed 10-year strategic development plan. It’s part of a series of meetings at all the public university campuses.

At the May 3 hearing, HECC Director Ben Cannon told lawmakers that the 10-year plan would hopefully change the capital funding process for the better.

“We are essentially reactive to what projects the universities bring forward to us,” Cannon said. “We have no forward-looking plan.”

Cannon said the strategic plan would answer vital questions “such as what should the future be of the expansion of a four-year campus in Bend.”

— Reporter: 541-640-2750,