EOUís 10-year plan unveiled to city council

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer June 27, 2012 02:32 pm

Strategic plan calls for new building that would house data center and technology-rich classrooms

The possible shape of the future at Eastern Oregon University  was revealed for the La Grande City Council recently, as an architectural consultant unveiled a strategic plan that calls for a new, high-tech learning center, a re-designed portal connecting the campus with downtown, a radical landscaping makeover, and more.

Allison Wildman of SERA Architects  met with the council in a work session June 18 at City Hall, showing off the plan that’s been in the works since the fall of 2011 and is nearing completion now.

“We have a pretty good draft together but there are still a few details to be worked out,” Wildman said of the document that provides strategic planning and a design framework for the university for the next 10 years. Wildman added she is satisfied the plan helps Eastern play to its strengths.

“This location is so rich in so many ways. We felt that very strongly,” she said.

Wildman talked a little about the history of the university that opened in 1929 as the Eastern Oregon Normal School, and traced its development to the current time when it serves some 4,300 students, 53 percent of them participating in on-line, distance education. 

She said only modest growth in enrollment is projected over the next few years: six percent for on-campus students, and 11 percent for those in distance education. There likely will be only a slight increase of students living on-campus.

“We think there will be a need for maybe 50 additional beds,” Wildman said.

Wildman said the plan, developed with input from a steering committee, students and faculty, strives to create open spaces and honor the school’s small-town ambiance. At the same time, it aims to meet Eastern’s “core themes” of quality, access, engagement and affordability.

Though some of the older buildings would be renovated under the plan, Wildman said only one new building is proposed. That structure, the Eastern Learning Commons, would house the university’s data center, equipment to support growth in distance education, and multi-purpose, technology-rich classrooms. 

“You’d have the newest and latest and greatest in technology there,” Wildman said. She said the Commons would also include a residential component to provide replacement housing for existing deteriorating halls. Hunt Hall would be demolished as part of the plan.

Also in the plan is a proposal to re-establish Eighth Avenue as the ceremonial and primary entrance to the  campus. Wildman said that the university’s several existing portals don’t give visitors a strong sense of arrival at the university, and lack a strong connection to the downtown area. She showed an artists’s rendering of an improved Eighth Street running toward campus that is beautified with street trees and new lighting.

“We feel Eighth Street is an important link to downtown, and this is where the university and the city need to sit down and talk,” Wildman said.

Another major change proposed in the plan is the daylighting of Mill Creek, which currently runs  through the center of campus underground, between Hoke Hall on the north and Quinn Coliseum on the south. 

Though Mill Creek enters and exits the campus through a pipe now, in another era it was exposed to view. Wildman said a daylighted Mill Creek would be a functional, educational and aesthetic feature, one in keeping with a landscape vision that accentuates views and natural landforms.

“The landscape concept is one of natural, open space,” she said.

Other changes proposed in the plan include:

•Formalizing and extending Inlow Mall along University Boulevard to include a plaza and turn-around area between Inlow Hall and Pierce Library.

•Clustering of parking on the edge of campus to enhance a pedestrian-oriented campus core. Parking would be buffered with landscaping and stormwater facilities.

•Renovation of existing Community Stadium and installation of a synthetic, all-season playing field. An adjacent field house would provide protected space for year-round athletics, and for community events.

Wildman spent some time talking about the University’s Grand Staircase, a crumbling but historically significant structure on the south side of Inlow. She said the plan supports restoration of the ornate old feature.

“It’s a front door to the community. There’s a strong desire to fix it, even if it doesn’t have much function,” she said.

Lon Whitaker, Eastern’s vice president of finance and administration, attended the Monday work session. He said none of the proposed improvements are funded, and it’s uncertain which ones will be in the future. Whitaker said that all seven universities in the state system have projects they want to complete, and all are vying for revenue. 

Whitaker said the Eastern Commons project in is the top 15 on a list of projects being considered  by state officials. The Inlow Mall project also is rated high.