The Oregon Legislature on Friday approved a $21.8 million upgrade for the sagging McNeal Pavilion athletic complex at Southern Oregon University.

The Oregon Legislature on Friday approved a $21.8 million upgrade for the sagging McNeal Pavilion athletic complex at Southern Oregon University.

The project is expected to pull the school back from seismic, disability and other issues, and provide jobs over the next two years — but will not make significant changes to the "gym" in terms of modernization or appearance.

The allocation is one of the largest earmarked for higher education during the legislative session, which ended Friday evening, and it was framed by university officials as a necessary safety step for the athletic program to move forward.

"It's exceptional news for us," SOU Athletic Director Matt Sayre said. "It's going to be a lot of seismic renovation, HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) and much-needed ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) upgrades for the basement and locker room."

Sayre called the structure "a very old marginal building with serious seismic issues, not ADA-compliant."

It was thought to have been built soon after World War II, he said.

Improvements to the swimming pool are not part of this project and will be tied to a student-funded Recreation Center envisioned to be set next to McNeal.

The worn track and turf field facility north of McNeal will be renovated this year as part of a separate project, Sayre said.

Ventilation problems, he said, have left McNeal stifling — especially at volleyball games in summer — but these improvements should resolve those issues.

There will be a certain amount of inconvenience for both indoor and outdoor sports over the next few years during refurbishment, he said.

The massive project will create jobs, but it will be bid statewide, so there's no promise of work for Southern Oregon, said state Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, co-chairman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee that helped pave the way for the vote.

"It was pretty smooth sailing. SOU did a good job of presenting the need for it as a priority project," Buckley said, noting there was no opposition to it.

"The safety issues helped move it to the top of the list," he said. "Structural weaknesses were uncovered a year ago and they let us know but it was too late for the 2013 session. It was the largest Oregon University System project this session, ahead of the Oregon Health Sciences University cancer center."

State Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, said, "this is something Peter (Buckley) and I had to put through. We saw the photos. It's all about repairing the structure, a real safety problem, as far as I know. The walls were collapsing."

Bates said the funds will be paid by bonding over a number of years.

"It's a lot of money, I admit it, but it needs to be done," Bates said. "It's our job to procure that money for SOU. It was a danger, a risk."

In a news release late Friday, Buckley said, "Sen. Bates and I know how vital Southern Oregon University is to our region. We also had the support of student government leaders who came to the Capitol almost every day of this session to help secure funding. They were essential to our efforts."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at