LA PINE — After more than two years of planning, La Pine welcomed dozens of University of Oregon students for a pilot program that will allow them to use Oregon’s youngest city as a temporary classroom.

On Friday, La Pine residents and elected officials mingled with students and faculty during a kickoff event for the University of Oregon’s Sustainable City Year Program, an interdisciplinary program that brings students to a different Oregon city each year.

Professors spoke about the classes that they will be teaching as part of the winter quarter of the program, ranging from a downtown revitalization course to a videography class titled “narrative storytelling,” and the city’s elected officials spoke about the potential impact on the community.

“The city of La Pine is building, so we need all the input we can get,” said La Pine Mayor Dennis Scott after the meeting. “This is a perfect opportunity for the city.”

While the Sustainable City Year Program has been in existence since 2009, the work with La Pine is considered a pilot program because the city is, by far, the smallest that the program has worked with.

Megan Banks, program manager for the Sustainable Cities Initiative, which manages the program, said this gives students a chance to apply concepts on a much smaller scale and address needs that smaller cities simply don’t have the staffing capacity to meet.

“All the same perennial issues that (larger) cities are dealing with, places like La Pine have to deal with, whether it’s infrastructure or just trying to figure out the city’s needs.”

Banks said those challenges are only amplified in La Pine, which incorporated in 2007 and lacks some of the infrastructure that more established cities take for granted.

“Questions that cities answered however many years ago they incorporated, La Pine is just having to deal with now,” Banks said.

The amount of time students spend in La Pine will vary among the seven classes confirmed for the school’s winter quarter. Classes will take sporadic field trips to La Pine, and each class will deliver a presentation, featuring a proposal or idea for the city that they’ve been working on, at the end of the quarter.

For example, for passive heating, a class offered jointly by the school’s architecture and environmental studies departments, students will produce designs for how best to heat parts of several public buildings, including a proposed transit center in downtown La Pine, using the power of the sun, according to professor Alexandra Rempel. Rempel added that the dry, cold climate of Central Oregon makes passive solar heating a different challenge than it is on the other side of the Cascades.

“La Pine has the perfect environment for passive solar,” Rempel said.

For the city, the program provides a chance to have new sets of eyes on city projects. And for the students, the program provides an opportunity to work in the type of client-consultant environment that they would see after graduation, according to Kerry Edinger, a graduate assistant for the program.

“As students, we have so many opportunities to do classwork, but it’s rare that we get to do classwork for a real client,” Edinger said. “It increases the stakes and really, really revs up our motivation.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7818,