COOS BAY — A project administrators dreamed about 19 years ago is now 90% complete on the Southwestern Oregon Community College campus.
The college’s Umpqua Health & Science Technology Building is expected to be done in time for its January 2021 opening. A grand opening ceremony has been pushed from October to sometime in December.
There have been a few delays along the way due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but overall, construction of the 36,000 square-foot project has been on schedule. The original $21.5-million budget has gone up to $24 million, as material costs have increased since the project began. Southwestern fundraised vigorously to qualify for an $8 million match from the state for construction of the building, with funds also provided from state bonds, federal grants and many generous private donations.
The pandemic has slowed things a little, said Leonard Phearson, project superintendent with Bogatay Construction of Klamath Falls, lead contractor for the building.
“We’ve had some products being held up because of the coronavirus and are maybe one to two weeks behind,” Phearson said. “But for the exterior, we’re probably at 90% completion.”
Phearson said they are still waiting on seating for the health building’s large lecture hall, which is being built in Columbia, but they are down to finish work inside the science building, including painting, installing cabinets and flooring.
The completion of the building will complement the Southwestern campus in many ways, but the construction has added to the local economy since groundbreaking on April 10. Phearson said there are 40-60 people on average working on the project regularly.
Bogatay is sourcing supplies locally and using local subcontractors when possible, including Dodge Survey and Planning, Reese Electric, Coastline West Insulation, Johnson Rock Products, Lighthouse Landscape and Brock Concrete. Overall, it is anticipated 98% of the project’s contract value has been awarded to Oregon-based companies.
Sue Russell Phearson, senior project engineer with Bogatay Construction said not only are they locally sourcing supplies, because of the long term nature of the project, many of the workers have rented homes or apartments or are living in RV parks. Those workers eat, shop and recreate in the area.
In addition, it was important to the owner, Sue Phearson said, to take care of the employees and contractors, especially during a pandemic, So two or three times a month they purchase take-out lunches or dinners from local restaurants such as Gino’s Pizza, Vinny’s Smokin’ Good Burgers, Kozy Kitchen and the Coach House, for example. The crew also keeps the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute busy.
“They make bagged lunches for us on a weekly basis, which are like gourmet dinners,” Sue Phearson said.
The Health & Science Technology Building is the largest building project in the college’s history. The project took an outdated building (Umpqua Hall) remodeled it for the nursing and paramedicine programs, then added the new building to it, which houses the high-tech lecture hall, student collaboration/study areas and modern labs for physics, chemistry, biology, geology and microbiology.
The wood-themed, technologically advanced space will be the home for 90% of SWOCC’s students who enroll for medical or science classes.
When the college started the project, planners knew the health and science labs were important for the next 50 years. They replaced original 1965-era science and 1980s-era nursing labs.
The new building ensures people of the South Coast have access without having to move to the highest quality training facilities for decades to come. The students who will train in the building, particularly in the nursing and paramedic programs, will graduate into high-paying crucial jobs that need workers in every community on the South Coast.
Students need modern, tech-rich science and health labs as they study for careers in engineering, chemistry, nursing and other life-saving occupations. The best instructors want to teach in modern facilities designed to help them inspire students and train highly skilled professionals. Southwestern planners didn’t imagine at the time how important these spacious labs and improved online teaching equipment would be right now.
Then came COVID-19, spreading a pandemic across the country and into communities.
“When the building opens in January, our nursing faculty can work with students in hands-on labs designed for safety and efficiency,” said Elise Hamner, dean of resource development and the Southwestern Foundation. “They will have enough space to allow for social distancing and other safety precautions. The lecture hall and other remote teaching technology make it easier for our nursing students to learn together better between our Brookings and Coos Bay campuses.”
To prepare for the opening of a physics lab, the college hired a physics instructor and is bringing back an engineering degree pathway that ties in with universities. That program also will make use of the building’s solar array for in-class instruction and projects. The modern science labs also allow for collaboration between the sciences — physics, chemistry and biology — so students can learn together as are the trends in engineering, research, environmental innovations and project development.
Ali Mageehon, Southwestern vice president of instruction who oversees all the programs at the college, also extols the value the new building will have on both students and the local economy.
“I think it’s going to be an extraordinary resource for this community,” she said. “We are going to be preparing students for high-wage, high-end jobs so they’ll stay in the community.”
Mageehon said the hope is that students seeking careers in the health or science fields will see they don’t need to leave the area for a degree. Those who seek advanced degrees can start their college careers at Southwestern.
Currently, the college’s courses in pre-nursing, such as anatomy and physiology, are doing well, she said.
“And more students are enrolling in chemistry, so some of that may be they’re anticipating getting to (take more advanced classes) once the new building is open,” Mageehon said.
Nursing is an existing program at Southwestern, but in anticipation of the new science building, the college has started a pre-engineering program, enabling students seeking a career in engineering to start their schooling at Southwestern where it’s more affordable.
Faculty has been added to the nursing and the paramedicine programs. The new building will allow Southwestern to offer more classes, expanded lab spaces and hands-on experiences. Mageehon is especially excited about the paramedicine lab component, which includes a simulated single-wide trailer inside the building so students can practice going in and saving people.
“It has all the things you’d find in a trailer and even narrow steps (that are hard to navigate) so they can get that kind of hands-on experience before they go out into the real world,” she said.
The new building has space inside for an ambulance that is also used for practice drills.
“I think it’s just an extraordinary opportunity for students going into the health care field … and I’d encourage them to consider coming here,” Mageehon said.