With two new campus buildings opening in the last three years, downtown Medford is starting to feel like a college town, some students say.

With two new campus buildings opening in the last three years, downtown Medford is starting to feel like a college town, some students say.

"It does bring the school a lot closer together," said Shawn Houle, who transferred to Rogue Community College's Riverside campus from Southern Oregon University this year.

Houle said she and other students often spend free time between classes around the campus, sometimes getting food nearby.

"When I'm here, I'm here all day, from 8 in the morning to 8 at night," said Houle. "I have a three-hour break and I spend it somewhere down here."

Houle believes the tighter-knit campus helps pump money into adjacent businesses.

"I eat off-campus here every day that I can afford it," she said.

Having students enjoy a downtown campus hub was the intent of RCC and SOU officials when they designed the Higher Education Center, which opened in the fall of 2008.

Before the HEC building was constructed, SOU/RCC hybrid classes were taught at the Mary Phipps Center, a building more than four blocks away.

"We were teaching classes out of a very old building," said SOU Marketing Director Jim Beaver. "This enabled both institutions to consolidate all that activity."

As the buildings have emerged downtown, a campus atmosphere has developed, according to RCC President Peter Angstadt.

"We really tried to create a distinct campus," said Angstadt. "It's really a bustling place, and it seems to be working for us."

Angstadt said that between the HEC building and a new bookstore, construction has brought students closer together.

"You do have more of a campus feel," said Angstadt. "And you really do see a lot more people out there."

A newly renovated black-box theater and athletic building opened on the corner of Front and Eighth streets this fall, giving the school expanded course offerings within the same blocks as the rest of the campus.

Angstadt said the school benefited from a $1.5 million Medford Urban Renewal Agency project that renovated Bartlett Street in 2008. The street runs between the new HEC building and two other RCC buildings.

The MURA project added benches, vegetation and new sidewalks along the street.

"We've tried to make that more of a plaza and more pedestrian friendly," said Angstadt.

Despite the positives of the emerging campus hub, Angstadt acknowledged that some downtown issues still must be addressed.

"I think it's a growing urban campus," he said. "We are aware there are traffic problems and parking problems in downtown that everyone is trying to work through."

Students on campus Tuesday were quick to complain about the difficulty of finding parking on campus and the cost of parking tickets.

"I just want another parking lot," said student Edgar Garcia, 19. "There's not enough parking."

Sophomore Kate Hailey said that without convenient parking she feels forced to spend her money on campus food, specifically a small deli cart in the HEC building which she said is too expensive.

"I could pay my way into Harvard with all the money I've given them," said Hailey.

The 20-year-old agreed that the downtown campus has developed a college atmosphere, but she added that improvements are still needed.

"I think there needs to be more trees and grass, and maybe a hot-dog cart," said Hailey.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.