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SOU asks for funds to expand theater building

Saying that space is at a premium in the Theatre Arts — Building at Southern Oregon University would be quite an understatement.

When the facility first opened in 1982, it was designed — to house 60 theater majors. This spring, there are 180 students who are — either pre-majoring or majoring in theater arts, down from 210 in the — fall, said Theatre Department Chairman Chris Sackett, an associate professor.

"We make it work to the best of our abilities," he said.

The administration hopes it can get funds from the state — for the needed expansion of the building, along with expansion plans for — the science building and SOU's Medford campus.

At Eastern Oregon University, SOU President Elisabeth — Zinser presented the school's proposals to the State Board of Higher Education — for three capital construction projects totaling $16 million, which the — university hopes to begin between 2005 and 2007. Approximately $7.4 million — would be from general funds, $5.3 million in bonds and $3.3 million in — grants, gifts and property sales. This includes a $4.2 million Theatre — Arts Building project that would add 6,000 square feet and remodel 8,000 — square feet. The Board of Higher Education will look at the capital improvement — requests of all the higher education institutions in the state and make — a decision on who will receive a high priority for funding in July.

But for now, students in theater arts will have to make — do with what they have.

Cramped quarters —

The need for space is such a commodity in the theater — building that many classes and rehearsals are held in hallways or on the — stairwells, the lobby, and even locker rooms - anywhere that there's available — room to meet.

"It can get a little ridiculous," said April Lowe, 22, — an SOU senior majoring in theater with an emphasis on performance. "We — have people rehearsing on the roof of the building and in the lobby area, — and you have to sign up for these spaces in advance. It's a dog fight — to get them. You got these determined students with all this energy who — want to put in the time, but there's no space."

But it makes Lowe and her fellow majors share a common — cause, a place to rehearse.

"We know what each other is going through," she said. — "It bonds us closer together."

To Craig Jessen, 21, a junior theater arts major, trying — to coordinate rehearsals and classes can be a performance in itself.

"It's like a well choreographed ballet sometimes and a — train wreck the other times," he said. "We try to make the best of it."

Because space is at a premium, many students have little — choice but to rehearse as late as midnight, he said.

"I think the department is doing the best it can, but — the dance can be done for only so long," Jessen said. "It's a wonderful — department, and we are so enthusiastic to be here and do good work. So — it's a reality, and we deal with it and work with what we have."

High demand —

It wasn't always this way, Sackett said.

Enrollment was steady but not overwhelming until a boom — in majors started to occur in 2000.

"The word started to get out that we had a very strong — program here and you get good training," he said. "It hasn't been an active — recruitment situation, it's been word of mouth."

Positive attributes include a partnership with the Oregon — Shakespeare Festival, more individual attention and opportunities to be — in productions for undergraduates, and that SOU is the university system's — designated center of excellence in fine and performing arts. The department — also will be featured in an article in June's issue of Stage Directions — magazine.

For the most part, students are patient and understand — the department is doing the best it can with the space given, Sackett — said, although there have been a few who have said it's too crowded and — have dropped out of the program.

Sackett is hopeful the expansion will become a reality.

"It will make the current situation tenable and we will — be able to better serve the number of students we have," he said.

Science and Medford campus expansions —

SOU is also hopeful to get funding for the two other capital — projects, said Ron Bolstad, vice president for administration and finance. —

The school is seeking $4 million in planning money for — a 92,000-square-foot addition and 82,000-square-foot expansion of the — SOU Science Building. The university hopes to begin construction on the — $36 million project in 2007, Bolstad said.

"It's the largest project we're pursuing in terms of scope — and cost," he said. "We need to modernize our current facilities both — in terms of building infrastructure and institutional office space."

The original building was constructed in 1959, with the — addition in 1967. The older portion doesn't even have air conditioning, — which makes it quite hot to work in during the summer, Bolstad said.

The third project is a 30,000-square-foot building in — downtown Medford, which would house SOU's Medford campus, and be located — on Rogue Community College property. The facility is tentatively scheduled — to be built on South Riverside Avenue, although that could change, Bolstad — said. The cost is estimated at $7.8 million

It would replace an outdated facility in Medford and consolidate — the classroom spaces that are leased by SOU outside of Ashland. This includes — rooms at the Rogue Valley Mall, Crater High School in Central Point and — South and North Medford High Schools and at RCC.

Bolstad hopes the project would begin the design phase — in 2006, with construction in 2007.

At Friday's board meeting, the response was positive to — all three projects, he said.

"The board was very receptive," Bolstad said. "I think — we have an excellent opportunity for these projects to be designated a — high priority."