State bills add $12 million for SOU and RCC projects

Two bills making their way through the Legislature Tuesday are expected to provide more than $12 million for projects at Southern Oregon University and Rogue Community College, including a new theater building at SOU.

Ashland state Sen. Alan Bates and state Rep. Peter Buckley announced that the projects are in a state bonding package approved Tuesday by the Legislature's Joint Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Capital Construction and Information Technology. The pair said in a news release that they expected the bills, SB 5505 and SB 5506, to be approved at some point in the near future by the Joint Committee on Ways & Means.

The package would provide $5.5 million for a new theater arts building at SOU, $5.9 million for seismic retrofitting at SOU's Churchill Hall and $1.4 million for maintenance projects at RCC.

All three projects would create much-needed jobs and benefit the local economy, said Bates.

"These projects are necessary," said Bates. "Students are being turned away from SOU because of limited space to house theater arts."

The $5.5 million for the SOU Theater Arts Building renovation and expansion is a significant investment in a project that promises to raise the status of SOU's educational offerings in the arts, said Buckley, co-chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

"This new theater arts complex, combined with SOU's unique collaboration with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, will provide future generations of aspiring thespians with the ability to obtain a world-class education in Southern Oregon," Buckley said.

SOU President Mary Cullinan praised Bates and Buckley for their work on the bonding package.

Cullinan said an estimated 340 construction jobs would be created "as we put this building in place," she said.

The school had hoped to receive funding for the past 10 years. SOU's current theater building was designed to accommodate 60 students, Cullinan said.

"Theater is our premier program at Southern Oregon University," she said. "We now have 260 students and we would like to expand. Our students are doing classroom rehearsal, building sets and doing costume design in very close quarters."

The university would like to add a musical theater program, Cullinan said, adding SOU theater graduates are "very employable" and add to the local work force, as well as other theater venues such as Cirque du Soliel.

The $5.9 million for seismic retrofitting at SOU's Churchill Hall and $1.4 million for maintenance projects at RCC are needed to protect students and structures, Bates said.

"We've been advised for years that Southern Oregon is due for a seismic event," said Bates. "For those reasons, and because we are putting people back to work at living-wage jobs, it's just plain good policy."

Churchill Hall is SOU's main administration building. Built in the 1920s, the two-story historic structure will be made as safe — and environmentally sound — as possible, said Craig Morris, vice president for finance and administration at SOU.

"We want to make it as energy efficient as possible," said Morris. "It's also an historic building. We want to make sure it's safe for students. And we want to make sure it survives an earthquake."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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