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SOU zeroes in on living facilities

Southern Oregon University has begun a 10-year master planning process, emphasizing expanded student housing and faculty housing built through public-private partnerships.

The preliminary plans, developed by Portland architecture firm Sera, were shown to faculty and community members Thursday and formally presented to the master plan steering committee Friday.

Sera campus planner Eric Ridenou presented three options ranging from "minimal intervention" to major shifts in the location of residence halls and new academic buildings. All plans included new residence halls, faculty housing and the expansion and renovation of several academic buildings. The final master plan will likely be a hybrid of the three, Ridenou said.

The university hopes to receive state funds to repair aging academic buildings and expand the science and theater buildings. Building expansions require the university to match state funds, and fundraising efforts are already underway, said Larry Blake, vice president of facilities management and planning and a member of the steering committee.

But the main focus of the master plan is improved student housing, aimed to attract and retain more students who are often accustomed to having their own rooms and in some cases their own bathroom, Blake said.

"Their expectations when they come to college are just far different than the postwar generation," he said. "You either have the facilities or they vote with their feet."

Students typically move into off-campus housing after their freshman year, but studies have shown that students who stay on campus are more likely to graduate, he said.

New housing would be similar to off-campus apartment living, with four single rooms attached to a shared living space and two bathrooms. Only the newest residence hall, Madrone Apartments, currently offers similar accommodations.

The most conservative suggestion for housing expansion is a new mixed-use housing complex on Ashland Street near Walker Avenue with commercial space on the main floor, student housing upstairs and underground parking. More significant changes include moving all student housing north of Siskiyou Boulevard and constructing a block-long "faculty village."

The university is pursuing faculty housing for similar reasons, to attract and retain faculty concerned about high housing costs and encourage professors to participate in more evening and weekend activities. Living close to campus is also more sustainable than commuting from Talent or Medford, Blake said.

The proposed model would provide homes on university-owned land for faculty members to purchase, which they could then sell back to the school upon their departure with some appreciation. The model has been used at several California schools in expensive housing markets, he said

"The way I look at it, it's just another way of providing affordable housing," he said. "We're not really trying to compete with the local real estate market."

Because SOU does not have the means to raise funds required for expansion of either student or faculty housing, they are researching the possibility of partnering with private developers who would build and manage the new housing, Blake said.

"We don't know if we can interest a developer in this, so it might not go anywhere," he said.

Before moving forward, the university would likely hire an outside consultant to do market and demand studies for both student and faculty housing. And although current financial markets seem prohibitive, the university is thinking more long-term, he said.

"I don't think anybody's really forecasting that the terrible economic conditions we have right now are going to last five or 10 years," he said. "Our strategy right now is to lay the groundwork so we're prepared. When the financial markets look better, we can proceed."

Preliminary drawings of the three options presented can be viewed and commented on at www.sou.edu/master-plan.

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.