Room for improvement
Southern Oregon University may have just received another $4.7 million in state bonding to go toward renovating Britt Hall, but that doesn’t mean SOU students should expect to see a lavishly remodeled building on campus any time soon.
For one, the actual work won’t begin until after the designs are drawn up and bonds sold, presumably in 2016. And secondly, the upgrades will not be cosmetic; they’ll be seismic.
“The problem is, it’s never been seismically upgraded,” SOU director of facilities management and planning Drew Gilliland said, “and due to the design of it, with the curved roof, it’s very susceptible to any sort of movement.”
Also in line to receive state funding is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which will receive $2 million to improve access to its two oldest theaters, the Angus Bowmer and Allen Elizabethan, the courtyard entry area to the two theaters and the Green Show performance space.
Distinguished by its curved, half-moon roof line as seen from the front, Britt Hall did receive some seismic upgrades to the first floor in the early 1990s but is long overdue for another round of deferred maintenance, which may not begin until early 2017. That makes it the latest project in SOU’s recent remodeling streak that’s poured more than $130 million into the school since 2010. Previous projects include a $56 million residence and dining hall, $29 million for athletic facilities, $11.5 million for the Theater Arts building and $6.4 million for Churchill Hall, which primarily houses administrative offices.
“But every school had buildings (with deferred maintenance),” Gilliland said. “We’re not unique in that we’re the only institution to have these issues addressed. It’s a numbers game. Our buildings just kind of came due at the same time. Seven years ago we weren’t doing anything and Eastern (Oregon University) and Western (Oregon University) were going gangbusters. So, ours kind of came due.”
Built in 1937, Britt Hall has endured several renovations in its long history, including the recent instillation of a new roof and a top-floor remodel. It houses SOU’s enrollment center, which is on the first floor, as well as the lab for SOU’s nursing students.
They won’t notice much of a difference, according to Gilliland.
“To be honest with you, the $4.7 million is only going to be able to cover that seismic (upgrade) and some HVAC upgrades,” he said. “For a building of that age and design, it’s not meant to be a remodel or anything like that. We’re not going to get a Science Building remodel, where we were able to get the whole building and really modernize it. Same thing happened with Churchill (Hall). Those deferred maintenance and seismic upgrade monies allowed us to completely renovate the inside of that building. That’s not going to happen on this particular building. It’s really a life safety improvement.”
How important is it? If an earthquake strikes, it could prove crucial.
“Depending upon the direction of the earthquake,” Gilliland said, “it’ll either do just fine or it’ll fall like bowling pins.”
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s $2 million comes from the state lottery fund and will be used to install an elevator in the Bowmer Theatre and a lift in the Elizabethan Theatre to improve accessibility.
OSF media and communications manager Amy Richard said that construction may begin at the end of the season, in November or December.
“We are thrilled to receive this grant from the state and see its commitment to the investment in statewide infrastructure in arts and cultural organizations,” OSF executive director Cynthia Rider said. “We are grateful for the efforts of representative Peter Buckley and the state legislators, as well as the Cultural Advocacy Coalition for its work to increase public investment in arts, heritage and the humanities, which supports economic development throughout Oregon.”
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or email@example.com.