SOU Theater Arts Building in line for expansion

A large-scale remodel and seismic upgrade of the Science Building at Southern Oregon University and a long-awaited expansion of the school's Theater Arts Building are next in line after state funding for the projects was made available early this year.

The theater building will be expanded by as much as 60,000 square feet in 2015, and by that time a safer and upgraded Science Building should be ready to host classes again, said Drew Gilliland, SOU director of facilities, management and planning.

On the last day of the 2011 Legislature, SOU received $21 million for seismic upgrades, heating, air conditioning, windows and other safety and energy-saving projects in the Science Building.

"We're definitely going to open it up a little more inside with multi-purpose labs and more interaction space for staff and students," Gilliland said. "It will be nicer."

Classes and offices will be moved to the old Cascade Dining Hall for a year during the construction, Gilliland said. Portland-based Soderstrom and Associates is about 80 percent done with its design of the building.

Anderson Construction won the project with a bid of $920,000, he said.

Gilliland said the university considered completing the project in phases, in order not to displace students, but the costs for construction would have jumped threefold.

Gilliland said Cascade, which recently was replaced by a new dining hall on the north side of campus, was the best fit for hosting displaced science classes because of its space and adequate ventilation system for lab work.

Sitting on a hill on the south side of campus, the Science Building will be catching up on a lot of deferred maintenance, he said, adding the building has no protections against earthquakes.

"It's not like anything is going to fall down tomorrow, but in a seismic event, it may be damaged," he said. "It's still a very usable building ... our plan is to renovate and reinvigorate."

In 2011, the same type of upgrades and deferred maintenance were completed at Churchill Hall with a $5.9 million grant from the state.

In its July session, the Oregon Legislature approved $11 million in state funding within the Oregon University System budget for SOU's Theater Arts Building expansion.

"That's been a successful program for us, and we've been asking for additional space for a long time," Gilliland said.

The building was designed to accommodate about 60 theater majors, said David Humphrey, director of the performing arts at SOU, adding the school now has close to 200 theater majors.

Although a conceptual design for the building was approved at the university over five years ago, when the school was on the brink of securing funding for the project, those designs were thrown out and will be redone, Gilliland said.

Due to lack of space inside the building, some design classes have been moved into the hallways for the last few years, and some theater classes are being held in adjacent Taylor Hall, Humphrey said.

"It's one of the university's signature programs. That's why we've been pushing the university so hard for these upgrades," he said. "From here, we will form a faculty committee to discuss designs of the building itself, which will include some students. ... We will have lots of discussion about what will be best for everyone."

Gilliland said construction on the project should get underway in 2015.

Over last summer, Southern Oregon-based Ausland group completed $700,000 in upgrades to Taylor Hall, which was outfitted with new windows, exterior walls and other energy saving upgrades, Gilliland said. That project was paid for by deferred maintenance money from the OUS budget, he said.

During its upcoming February session, the Legislature will have another opportunity to keep SOU's construction boom rolling by approving between $15 million and $20 million of the deferred maintenance funding for seismic renovation and other upgrades to McNeal Pavilion, Gilliland said.

The university requested that OUS consider renovation of the building a high priority, he said.

"A study concluded it's not going to immediately fail, but with any sort of seismic event, a 3.0, 4.0 or 5.0 earthquake could result in major failure," Gilliland said.

According to an OUS capital budget report on its 2013-15 spending, McNeal Pavilion "has extensive deferred maintenance and seismic upgrades needed to ensure the facility's continued use. ... The entire facility is in poor deteriorating condition."

Gilliland said SOU's facilities will be second to none in the state once this list of projects is completed.

"State funding comes based on need primarily ... and we were just kind of due, for lack of a better term," he said.

Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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