Dorms of the future

Southern Oregon University Monday unveiled a plan for building two new residence halls and a dining center on its Ashland campus to replace the more than 50-year-old Cascade Residential Complex as early as fall 2013.

The new buildings are designed to be situated on the north side of Ashland Street, adjacent to the school's existing Greensprings Residential Complex, and will create more of a community-like atmosphere for students living on campus, said Jonathan Eldridge, vice president for student affairs at SOU.

"Cascade is a dying building," he said. "Our new residence halls will be much more appealing to students, and hopefully result in more students who want to continue living on campus."

The project will cost an estimated $40 million, which SOU will pay for over an extended period by entering into a ground-lease arrangement with American Campus Communities, the developer it selected for the project. The terms of the lease have not been set, said Eldridge, but the arrangement will mean ACC is responsible for financing the project's initial construction, and SOU will own the buildings when the lease is paid off.

"There is still a lot that needs to be done before we see the construction drawings, and some things may change," said Eldridge. "We plan to have the financing worked out while the project is being designed "… and in the meantime, we'd like to give our students and the Ashland community an opportunity to give us their input."

SOU plans to host two open house meetings with the public, on Oct. 11 and 25, location to be determined, to hear input about the project. The school is also circulating email surveys to students about the project.

So far, the project does not include any additional parking spaces to be built on campus. Eldridge said the university is in the process of conducting a traffic study to determine if additional parking is needed near the new halls and making door-to-door contact with residents whose property is near the area.

The university's plan has not been approved by the Ashland Planning Commission, but developers hope to have building permits by February 2012, and begin construction the following April.

"That is a pretty aggressive timeline," said Eldridge, "but for us, if we miss fall opening, we are basically looking at opening the buildings an entire year later."

Designed by Sustainable Energy Reference Architecture, of Portland, one 105,039-square-foot residence hall will consist of about 430 beds and 135 semi-suite apartment-style rooms. The other, at 89,433 square feet, will consist of about 273 beds and 78 suite-style apartments. According to Eldridge, freshmen and sophomores will likely occupy the semi-suite hall, while juniors and seniors will take the suite hall. He said the suite-style rooms will be larger, include a kitchenette, and will be outfitted with additional amenities.

In addition to the four-story residence halls, a separate 27,800-square-foot, one-story dining and community hall will complete the project. It will include a convenience store, a lounge area and more food options that Cascade Complex has to offer, said Eldridge.

"These facilities will be the anti-Cascade," said Kurt Schultz, a principal architect for SERA. "It's really going to be an increase in the quality of the residential experience for students here."

Tim Robitz, director of housing for SOU, said the new facilities will be a good switch from the roughly 600-room "archaic" Cascade Complex, which currently uses about 60 percent of the campus steam heating energy, he said.

"There are a number of things wrong with Cascade," said Robitz. "The conclusion we came to was that it was going to cost more to remodel it, than building a new facility would."

Schultz said the new building will be far more sustainable and energy efficient than Cascade, and will not be heated through the campus' steam heating system.

According to the SOU master plan, the Cascade Complex will eventually be replaced with academic buildings, but that may not happen directly after the new residence halls open, said Eldridge. He said the university will need to assess its housing demands in 2013 and look at other options for the building before closing its doors permanently.

The new residence halls will be designed in a fashion that promotes student interaction, said Schultz, and will include more open spaces and outdoor amenities than Cascade's design.

"It's going to be like its own neighborhood," said Eldridge. "It'll be a great thing for our students and our campus."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.

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