New downtown center represents collaborative effort in higher education

Crews will break ground Friday on a new higher education center in Medford designed to tear down the traditional wall between two- and four-year schools, the first of its kind in Oregon.
The three-story, 68,700-square-foot, $22.2 million building at Eighth and Bartlett streets will be jointly owned and funded by Southern Oregon University and Rogue Community College.
RCC President Peter Angstadt and SOU President Mary Cullinan will preside over the public ground-breaking at — p.m. Friday.
"It's going to be great and as soon as the ceremony is over, we're going to start construction work," said Angstadt. "The partnership (with SOU) will expose students and community to a lot of different options and an amazing variety of support and instructional services."
RCC will focus on freshman and sophomore years, while SOU will cover all four years, with focus on the upper division. But students "won't have to worry 'which college am I with?' " Angstadt said, as there will be transparency, but no duplication between the two schools. The new center will be stylish, with a large atrium entry, coffee shop and tiered presentation hall seating 110 people &

8212; available for major community events, faculty readings and string quartet concerts, said Vicki Purslow, SOU Medford campus director. It will have a lot of services available to the regional business community, she added.
The new center will "absolutely" increase stagnant SOU enrollment, Purslow added, noting that many studies show the path to expanded enrollment, offerings and revenues is by opening satellite campuses.
The new building should not add much to parking needs, she said, because so many classes will be nights and weekends.
The two schools will share administration of programs with the goal of providing a "seamless transition" of lower division students to junior- and senior-level classes, said Dave Harris, SOU School of Business dean who will manage academic programs at the higher education center.
"The center is very important for SOU because we're collaborating with RCC in serving the whole region," he said. "Medford and its region are important to that strategic direction."
Since 1984, SOU has been trying to serve career-track students from a "mishmash" of seven locations, such as the high schools, the Job Council, shopping centers and Mary Phipps, said Lynn Green, SOU senior director of marketing and public relations.
Both institutions will contribute $11.1 million toward the project.
SOU is about $900,000 short of a required $2.6 million in matching funds. More than $750,000 has been pledged so far, and another $900,000 will be raised through the sale of the Mary Phipps Center. The rest will come from $5.5 million in state bonding and $3 million in state funding.
Major pledges to the SOU Foundation drive include the Jed and Celia Meese Family Foundation, $250,000; Sherm and Wanda Olsrud, $200,000; Asante Health System, $100,000; and Medford Fabrication, KOBI-Patsy Smullin, LTM Construction and Peter Sage and Debra Lee, $50,000 each.
RCC's share includes $4.1 million in state bonding and $7 million in bonds approved by voters in 2005.
SOU Foundation Executive Director Jackie Schad said the SOU Foundation "has supported an SOU presence in Medford for a long time and we're excited to get all 1,000 students (enrolled in SOU Medford area classes) in one place.
"The center will be an important addition to the revitalization of downtown Medford, to opportunity for students and work force in the Medford area and for the good of our citizenry as a whole."
Designed by SERA Architects of Portland and built by Adroit Construction of Ashland, the center will include energy-saving green features such as high-efficiency water fixtures and enhanced natural room lighting.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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