Alyssa Sutton

LA GRANDE — Oregon Governor Kate Brown visited Eastern Oregon University Saturday morning to sign the bill allocating $9 million toward building a field house on campus.

The field house will be the first new campus building in 30 years that is fully funded by the state, according to a press release from EOU.

“When I came to EOU a few years ago, the field house was part of our master plan, but it was just a small project (that) was only focused on athletics and was ultimately about bringing wrestling back to EOU,” said Tom Insko, EOU president. “As we looked at (the field house plans) we felt we had the opportunity to do something significantly more.”

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.

“One of our goals is to have a university that is interconnected with our community and region, serving as the educational, cultural and economic engine of rural places across Oregon,” Insko said. “We’ve expanded (the field house) to not only serve athletics but also to have a cultural and educational role that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Insko thanked the governor Saturday morning for working hard in the short session –– when capital allocations don’t traditionally go far in the Legislature.

“Due to the governor’s leadership, we had this opportunity to move forward with the funding of a major field house facility,” he said.

EOU secured $9 million — which the state will raise through the sale of lottery-backed bonds —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.

“We come from a region that is surrounded by beautiful landscapes and forests,” Insko said. “There is a new product in wood, called cross-laminated engineered wood product. I saw (the field house) as an opportunity where we could use this product.”

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 it a viable alternative to concrete, masonry and steel, Tim Seydel, EOU vice-president of university advancement told The Observer.

“This June we’re hosting a cross-laminated mass timber conference in Eastern Oregon,” announced Insko, adding that previous conferences had all been held in Portland.

“My vision is to bring more of these conversations to rural Oregon, and Eastern can play a role in that,” he said.

Using cross-laminated timber for the field house was intentional.

“It’s a product that (has a) connection with our area,” Insko said. “It could offer investments, and it’s a product that people could see and maybe utilize and leverage as an educational component.”

In closing, Insko said that the field house will “not only support growth, enrollment, athletic advancement and development but also a connection to the community.”

Gov. Brown said that she was thrilled to be at EOU to celebrate the field house.

“It’s much more than an investment in a new building, but in the entire region,” she said. “It’s a reflection of the hard work you are doing here to expand more opportunities to students throughout Eastern Oregon.”

Brown also celebrated the recognition of Eastern being named Oregon’s official rural university, saying that it was a very important victory during the last legislative session.

“EOU is uniquely rural in both its location and the communities you serve,” she said. “Thanks to new relationships and longstanding partnerships, the reach of EOU continues to expand,” Brown said.

The designation allows EOU to leverage additional federal education dollars and apply for grants that otherwise it wouldn’t be eligible for. This is beneficial as the university serves the highest percentage of students eligible for the Federal Pell Grant in the state.

“As your governor, I want to make sure that Oregon is a place where everyone can thrive, and that means every single community around the entire state of Oregon,” Brown said. “I think particularly in this region, the local economy very much depends on students who are prepared for the workforce of the future, and EOU is making it possible for those who love this place to stay here in this region.”

Brown also introduced the Oregon Solutions project with EOU and Portland State University. Oregon Solutions brings businesses, government and nonprofits to the table to agree on what role each can play to address a community need.

“Educators, local leaders, legislators and businesses are all at the table working on a strategy focused on people, place and prosperity,” Brown said. “That’s why we’re focused on launching ‘Future Ready Oregon,’ a new initiative to make sure our students and our adults have hands-on learning opportunities to prepare them for the jobs our growing businesses need at every single corner of the state. To help make this vision a reality in La Grande and throughout the region, I am very happy to announce the launch of the Urban Rural Ambassadors program. This is a new partnership with EOU and with PSU and Oregon Solutions. It will challenge students, whether from Pendleton or Portland to provide creative solutions to meet the needs of our diverse communities and support our local thriving economies.”

Brown said that she is excited for the partnership as she sees it sparking growth throughout the region, and she looks forward to replicating the same strategy in other communities around the state.