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RCC will convert Medford store site

Rogue Community College plans to buy a building it shared with a mattress store in downtown Medford and convert the space into a theater and classrooms for health and physical education courses.

The college's board approved the purchase of the former Mattress Land building at 130 E. Eighth St. last week.

The $1.45 million purchase from Medford Properties Inc. is expected to close Nov. 30, college officials said. The purchase was funded by bond money approved by Jackson County voters in 2004. This likely will be the final project using those funds, officials said.

The college had leased half the 12,000-square-foot building for classrooms and offices, while the other half housed the mattress store, which closed this summer.

The purchase will save money spent on leasing space and provide additional space for students, college officials said.

"It will be a lot nicer," said John Cole, who has headed the college's theater program while it staged plays in borrowed spaces around the Rogue Valley and finally in a converted warehouse that it shared with physical education, fire science, music and other programs at RCC's downtown campus on Bartlett Street.

He reminisced about how he and Ron Danko, who co-directed the college theater productions, and students had to build a stage and seating platforms with plywood panels for each rehearsal and performance, then clear the heavy panels away to make way for the next class.

The challenge was equally difficult for the physical education program, he said.

"We should have killed one another trying to make that work," he said.

The college hopes to comfortably accommodate the theater, and health and recreation classes, as well as a multicultural student center in the newly purchased building, said Lynda Warren, dean of college services.

Ample space should provide room for multicultural activities and recruitment events that bring large numbers of teens to campus, she said.

With the purchase now approved, RCC will seek a design team for the remodeling project. Construction will get under way later, Warren said.

The building is set to open for its new purpose in the fall of 2010.

The college plans to move a student employment center in the building to the main G Building, located across an adjacent public parking lot, Warren said. A placement testing center also will be relocated, but its site hasn't been pinned down yet, she said.

The multipurpose room on Bartlett Street that was used by theater and physical education classes could become a larger bookstore that could serve both RCC and Southern Oregon University students from the Higher Education Center, Warren said.

While the theater program won't stage a production this year while the remodeling is being done, Cole is excited about the program's future.

"Hopefully with this building there will always be a theater program in Medford," he said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.