Renovation of Southern Oregon University's first building, 86-year-old Churchill Hall, is running about two months ahead of schedule and staff should begin funneling back into its top floor by the first week of September, the project's contractor said.

Renovation of Southern Oregon University's first building, 86-year-old Churchill Hall, is running about two months ahead of schedule and staff should begin funneling back into its top floor by the first week of September, the project's contractor said.

Workers have gutted the building to its frame, reinforced it with a network of steel columns and girts, added foundation support and are finishing remodeling its interior, said Aaron Ausland, CEO of engineering and construction firm Ausland Group, who's been working on the project since October.

"We pretty much built an entire new structural skeleton inside the old building," he said. "Being a seismic renovation and an architectural renovation, it's been a very complex project, but our team has been very proactive identifying potential problems before they occur."

With new flooring, walls, electrical wiring, lighting, and windows, the building will be more energy-efficient, and its sturdy new frame makes it less susceptible to earthquake damage, Ausland said.

The entire project is expected to cost about $6.4 million, with direct construction costs totaling about $4.9 million, said Drew Gilliland, SOU director of facilities, management and planning.

"I think we've done a great job on the project. It's been a win-win for both of us," Gilliland said. "And, we're always glad to keep the work in the valley with our contractors."

Oregon Health & Science University will have all of its faculty at SOU consolidated in Churchill's top floor, and will be first to move back into the building. If things go smoothly, crews could have the project wrapped up in October, Ausland said, allowing President Mary Cullinan and other administrators to move back in, as well as a handful of SOU's staff who will work from offices on the top floor.

"The goal right now is to get OHSU moved in," Gilliland said. "We have a few offices and classrooms up there that our staff will use, but I don't think they will be finished with the work until the end of September."

Initially, SOU established a timeline for the project to be completed by December.

The Oregon University System, through its deferred maintenance program, contributed $1.3 million to cover the seismic retrofitting, and OHSU, which operates a nursing program at the SOU campus, contributed $500,000.

Another $2.7 million for the project comes from state energy loans and $1.8 million from lottery bonds. Although SOU will not have to pay back the lottery bonds, it will be required to pay back the energy loans.

The faculty members in SOU's foreign language program, who once worked out of Churchill's top floor, will eventually move to the second floor of Central Hall, which is where most of the OHSU staff and faculty work. The foreign language program is working out of a manufactured home near Central Hall.

Except for the building's clearer glass windows, the renovation effort is virtually unnoticeable from outside Churchill.

"On the outside you'd never know what was going on in there, but we've been hard at work "… it looks spectacular," Ausland said.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.