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RCC downsizes in Medford

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneRogue Community College plans to close the G Building off Central Avenue in Medford.

Rogue Community College is closing three buildings at its downtown Medford campus as a cost-cutting measure to deal with declining enrollment and revenue losses.

“It will help the overall financial stability of the institution,” said Cathy Kemper-Pelle, president of RCC.

The major restructuring will save the college about $1 million a year in overhead, but other measures are also in the works, including up to 15 layoffs and a reduction in the number of classes for part-time teachers.

The move comes at a time when the community continues to reel from the fallout of the devastating fires last summer that wiped out 2,500 residences in Jackson County, as well as the pandemic.

Kemper-Pelle said RCC will continue to partner with SOU at the higher education building on South Riverside Avenue.

The buildings that are being leased or sold include Building G at the corner of Central Avenue and East Eighth Street, Building A at the corner of South Riverside Drive and East Ninth Street and Building C on Eighth Street.

Building C was underutilized because RCC didn’t have a big enough theater program, Kemper-Pelle said.

A number of administrative and academic skills offices in Building G will be moved into Building B, located on East Ninth Street.

A number of factors contributed to the decision to downsize the downtown campus, but RCC has seen its revenue streams impacted by declining enrollment and fewer tax dollars as a result of the fire and the pandemic. The college hopes the Legislature can carve out some extra money to help offset its losses.

Enrollment was down 26% in fall, 27% in winter and 18% this spring. Current enrollment is 3,000 students, most of whom are part-time.

Kemper-Pelle said the number of layoffs is still being worked out, but she estimated it would affect 10 to 15 positions.

Kemper-Pelle said another factor in closing the three buildings is a 2019 study that determined that RCC wasn’t using its spaces efficiently.

For a community college of its size, RCC spans an unusually large number of locations in two counties. It has its main campus in Grants Pass, with other two other smaller sites in Josephine County. RCC also has a Table Rock campus in White City.

Kemper-Pelle said a classroom space in Kerby will be shared with a local boys and girls club to make better use of the building.

RCC has moved many of its downtown Medford classes to the Table Rock campus in recent years, and the school continues to have a greater percentage of Jackson County residents enrolled than in Josephine County.

Kemper-Pelle said that over the long-term she expects to maintain a presence in downtown Medford, particularly at the higher education building.

“That location is very special,” she said.

The higher education building was made possible by a $23 million state grant in 2004.

RCC expanded its presence into downtown Medford almost 20 years ago when it bought the old Montgomery Ward location and renovated it to become Building G.

At the time, RCC’s move was heralded as a boon for a downtown Medford renaissance, and the college had received assurance from city officials that parking would be available for students, though it has been a source of friction over the years.

“Parking has been an issue,” said Kemper-Pelle.

In the future, Kemper-Pelle said, it’s possible RCC could reconsider its stake in downtown Medford, requiring additional classroom space.

“More housing in downtown Medford could change that,” she said.

The campus is located near the bus station, and many students ride their bikes to class already.

Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, said the Legislature is aware that higher education needs some help.

“Our community colleges have been hard hit by the pandemic and by these wildfires.”

She said community colleges have asked for a $703 million biennial budget, which would maintain current service levels.

But RCC and SOU have been hurt more than other higher education institutions because of the fires last year.

“Our community is in tumult,” Marsh said.

As a result, Marsh has been pushing the Legislature to pass a number of wildfire bills to help Jackson County rebuild after losing 2,500 residences in the Almeda fire alone.

“We are asking for money for RCC and SOU as part of our wildfire package,” she said.

Oregon anticipates receiving federal assistance in the near future that could help funnel money into higher education.

Harry Weiss, director of the Medford Urban Renewal Agency, said the city is about to undertake a parking study that will look at how best to accommodate students in the future.

He said it’s also conceivable there might be a developer who could be interested in developing housing for students in the downtown.

More housing is already proven to be of interest to developers.

MURA is working on a project to build a 60-unit apartment complex at South Holly Street and West Eighth Street, a block from City Hall.

The Inn at the Commons is being converted into a 123-room apartment complex.

Developers are eying other projects in downtown Medford as well.

“I think there would be a market for students living downtown,” he said.

Weiss said he thought there could be interest in the buildings that RCC has for lease or sale, as well.

“There are a lot of real estate development ideas taking place right now,” he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.