OSU-Cascades to break ground

Work on new campus set to begin before July 4th weekend

By Tyler Leeds / The Bulletin

OSU-Cascades intends to begin building its long-delayed, four-year campus in Bend before the July 4 weekend, with eyes set on a fall 2016 opening.

The university’s plans for a 10-acre campus off SW Century Drive have been fiercely contested by a group of residents organized under the name Truth in Site. The opposition, which contends the west side is too crowded for a university, has seen its legal challenges to block the development struck down three times, including a decision last week by a state board. The court saga, which passed through an independent hearings officer and the Bend City Council before reaching the state level, resulted in OSU-Cascades scrapping its original plans for a fall 2015 opening.

Even though the university has decided to begin construction, the lawsuits may not be over, as Truth in Site leaders stated they hope to raise $27,000 to file with the Oregon Court of Appeals, an action they have until June 29 to complete.

Truth in Site’s spokesman, Scott Morgan, did not return calls for comment.

Even if an appeal is filed, OSU-Cascades will still be able to work on construction. The branch campus’ top administrator, Becky Johnson, downplayed the risk of moving ahead now, saying Thursday no decision the state Court of Appeals could make would result in OSU-Cascades “having to rip out our work and move somewhere else.”

Instead, she said, a worst-case scenario would involve tweaks to things such as the school’s parking plan or the placement of a street.

Johnson noted the decision to move ahead once the requisite building permits come through, likely during the week of June 29, was made to ensure the campus could open in fall 2016.

“Our main driver is our desire to provide higher ed as soon as possible, but if we want to be ready by fall 2016, this was our deadline to get moving,” Johnson said. “Every year, 60 percent of our students going to college choose a four-year school, so every year we wait is another year a group of students leave who may never come back. This was our drop-dead moment to get ready for 2016.”

Nonetheless, Johnson noted a harsh winter or tough soil could delay the opening. However, the school isn’t waiting for a campus before hosting underclassmen, as it will enroll its first freshman class this fall in existing facilities, including Cascades Hall, a space it leases on the Central Oregon Community College campus. Currently, OSU-Cascades enrolls only juniors, seniors and graduate students.

Once the new four-year campus is built, it will be sized to support 1,890 students, though OSU-Cascades is considering purchasing an adjacent 46-acre pumice mine, which would give it room for 5,000.

The plans for the 10 acres include a three-story academic building, a dining hall and dormitories able to accommodate more than 300 students. Students and visitors will also have access to a coffee shop, stores and a number of informal gathering areas.

A criticism Truth in Site has leveled is that the campus doesn’t provide enough parking. Johnson acknowledged parking and traffic will be an issue, but added that would be the case anywhere the campus is developed. To help mitigate the problem, the university has committed to giving $300,000 to the region’s bus service, Cascades East Transit, to expand service to the campus.

“Transit is a big part of our plan to make this work, and we’ve all along said we have concerns about traffic,” Johnson said. “We want to work collaboratively with the community to solve these issues, and our financial commitment with CET is an example of our putting our money where our mouth is, saying we want to be part of the solution.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. An earlier version of the story had the wrong amount of money the university plans to give Cascades East Transit.

The Bulletin regrets the error.