Today it is barren, but 2-1/2 years from now, the Snowflake Field area at Eastern Oregon University will be an oasis of opportunity for the athletic program and the general public.
The Legislature has passed legislation that will provide Eastern with $9 million for the construction of a field house at EOU on the eastern edge of its campus. The state will raise the $9 million through the sale of lottery-backed bonds.
The field house will feature a six-lane, 200-meter track; an exercise lab and instructional space for the Physical Activity and Health Degree program; winter weather practice space for outdoor sports teams; and exercise space for the public.
“This is very exciting. It is huge,” said Tim Seydel, Eastern’s vice president for university advancement.
Seydel said Eastern will soon begin raising money for the field house project, which will be used to augment the construction of the facility. Regardless of how much money is raised, construction of the field house will begin in the fall of 2019 and likely will take a year to complete, Seydel said.
The facility’s running track will be the only permanent competition-grade one in Oregon, said Ben Welch, EOU’s track and field coach. Welch added that Eastern will be the only non-NCAA Division I university west of the Rocky Mountains with an indoor track.
“This will completely change the dynamics of (what EOU has to offer). It is a game changer,” Welch said.
The facility will be able to host track meets and volleyball, basketball and wrestling tournaments. Welch noted that the field house will have enough space for four volleyball courts, space that also could be easily converted into three basketball courts.
In addition to being an excellent athletic practice facility and exercise and health lab site, the field house will also provide space for June graduation ceremonies in the event of bad weather and community events like trade and outdoor shows.
“It will be a magnificent model of versatility,” said Welch, noting that it will also be available to community members who want to exercise.
Eastern secured $9 million for the field house via Senate Bill 5702, a bonding authorization bill that also provided funding to the University of Oregon and Oregon State University for building projects. The bill was amended during the current Legislative session to provide funding for Eastern’s field house, which will be named later.
Seydel credits state representatives Greg Barreto (R-Cove) and Greg Smith (R-Heppner) and State Senator Bill Hansell (R-Athena) for their efforts in securing bond authorization for the field house project.
“They provided us with excellent support,” Seydel said.
Smith helped do this as a member of the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Capital Construction where SB 5072 was considered.
“Eastern Oregon University is our rural university. This facility will help recruit and keep our Eastern Oregon youths and athletes in Eastern Oregon,” Smith said in a news release.
Eastern succeeded in landing funding from the Legislature for the field house after first unsuccessfully trying to do so in the 2017 session. A year ago, EOU requested $6 million from the Legislature for the field house project and planned to raise $2 million more in private funds.
Despite the setback, EOU made a second attempt to secure funding for the field house in the 2018 Legislative session.
“A lot of people felt when we started this (the second attempt) that it was a long shot,” Seydel said.
Eastern succeeded in part because it took a different approach, he said.
“We believed we had a better case,” Seydel said, explaining that joining forces with UO and OSU helped Eastern’s cause and so did agreeing to take an environmentally friendly approach that benefits the state’s economy.
All three universities promised, if SB 5072 passed, to construct their buildings out of cross-laminated timber, an engineered wood building system. Cross-laminated timber is made from several layers of lumber board stacked crosswise and fused together on their wide faces. Cross-lamination provides stability, strength and rigidity, making CLT a viable alternative to concrete, masonry and steel, Seydel said.
He said legislators were impressed with the plan to use cross-laminated timber because it is produced in Oregon mills and wood is a renewable resource.
Seydel said that he, EOU President Tom Insko and other school representatives spent a considerable amount of time at the capitol in Salem this winter speaking to legislators and legislative committees.
“I feel like I lived in Salem for most of February,” he said.
Insko believes their efforts were well worth it, noting that the facility will be an enormous benefit to EOU.
“The EOU field house provides a flexible indoor space unavailable anywhere else in Eastern Oregon, Southeast Washington and Western Idaho,” he said. “One of our goals as an institution is to create a campus that promotes an engaging student life, while inviting prospective students, faculty, staff and others to take part in an active and thriving campus community. This project represents the incredible energy at EOU, and I look forward to seeing it take shape.”