A masterful PLAN

Embarking on one of its greatest transformations, Pacific University looks to the future with an ambitious building program

n the wall of Phil Creighton's office hangs a turn-of-the-century photograph of Pacific University.

It only scarcely resembles the campus we know today. In fact, the brick façade of Marsh Hall and the colonial edifice of Old College Hall are the only recognizable landmarks in the picture. The two other buildings featured in the strangely empty-looking photo have long since burned down, and the trees that now loom over the university were just saplings back then.

Under Creighton's leadership as university president, Pacific is now embarking on one of its greatest transformations since that 100-year-old picture of four buildings on a grassy hillside was snapped.

In the coming decade, the university will demolish some old halls, redevelop existing structures, and erect entirely new ones as part of a $176 million project to modernize the campus.

'We need to provide facilities that help students maximize their opportunities,' said Creighton, noting that advanced laboratories, performance arenas, and other top-of-the-line educational resources are more likely to attract students and keep them enrolled at Pacific throughout their college careers.

'Our goal is to have more students living on campus, taking classes in better buildings, and pushing our retention and graduation rates even higher,' he said.

An initial phase in this gradual metamorphosis - expected to continue past 2010 - is already complete: the Health Professions Campus, under construction since 2005, officially opened last month in Hillsboro. A previous venture, meanwhile, is already proving successful: the new library, completed last year, has seen a 60 percent increase over the previous facility in usage among students.

Pacific University's growth strategy is not only to recruit a greater number of students with state-of-the-art learning centers, but also to boost its on-campus residency rate by making more living space available.

As the university builds facilities, creates new programs, and hires faculty in the coming years, Pacific aims to increase enrollment by more than 1,100 graduate students and 400 undergraduates, bringing its total population to about 4,200. By razing old residence halls, such as Clark Hall, and developing new ones with modern amenities, like the recently opened Burlingham Hall, the university hopes to have 80 percent of those students living on campus, up from the current rate of 65 percent.

More students living in Forest Grove means more business activity in the city, as students spend their money on local food, fuel, coffee, and other daily necessities, said Darlene Morgan, Pacific's vice-president for finance and administration.

'Growing the residency has a helpful economic impact on downtown Forest Grove,' she observed.

The relationship between the city and university is symbiotic because many students and parents seek a traditional college town atmosphere, Morgan added.

'We have the perfect scenario for a university, being located in a small, historic town. A lot of universities are trying to grow that around them,' she said.

For the university, expanding the student body is a step toward greater efficiency. The number of students will rise from about 2,700 to 4,200, but Pacific will rely on existing administrative staff and won't need to hire extra personnel like assistant presidents or additional media coordinators.

'With more students, it lowers the administrative cost per individual,' said Creighton, adding that 4,000 students - give or take - is the 'magic' number for an institution like Pacific University. 'Once you get beyond a particular size, you have to add more people.'

With the occupational therapy, physical therapy, and other health profession programs moving six miles east to Hillsboro, the Forest Grove campus will have more room to develop undergraduate arts and sciences programs.

However, administrators want to avoid having two campuses separated both geographically and academically. To bridge the gap, Pacific will launch the 'Pathways' program, designed to provide undergraduate students with seminars, clinical experience, enrichment courses, and mentorship from graduate students attending the new facility.

'We want to connect the undergraduate experience with the potential graduate experience,' said Creighton, adding that the interaction between students of various education levels will have pragmatic as well as academic benefits. 'It's all the practical advice you'd need for eventual career success.'

This year, the university has started two new health science tracks: a master's level program in pharmacy and a bachelor's level program in dental health science. In the coming two years, they also plan to add a master's program for health administration, and another for nursing.

Careers that traditionally required only two-year degrees are beginning to demand higher levels of education in the health service industry, said Creighton. He explained that health-care professionals are expected to possess an advanced degree of training across the board - from doctors to technicians. 'There's a push to get baccalaureate degrees for health professions,' he said. 'As baccalaureates, they have a greater degree of autonomy and experience.'

Cooperation with the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center and Tuality Healthcare will contribute to the expertise of Pacific's alumni, which was a main reason Hillsboro was picked for the Health Professions Campus.

The Virginia Garcia center treats migrants and minorities who typically have limited access to quality health care, which will teach students service in the community, while Tuality will provide them with a breadth of professional experience, Creighton said.

New fields of study will also soon be available at the Forest Grove campus, especially in emerging disciplines that draw from established sciences, such as environmental science - which relies on both chemistry and biology - and bioinformatics, which combines mathematics and chemistry to study genes.

'We have the capacity to develop new programs, and expand existing programs,' said Creighton.

Although the renovations to the campus and its educational offerings will be sweeping, people who look at photos of the current university 100 years from now will still be able to identify it. New buildings will be constructed according to Pacific's architectural style. Many of the original trees will also remain, and those that fall or are removed will be replaced. Basically, the university will modernize without compromising its 150 years of tradition, Creighton said.

'Because of our fixed geographical footprint, we need to use our space very efficiently. You want to grow, but you don't want to change the qualities that make you successful.'