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University for rent: Pacific lines up summer programs

Conference services keep the Forest Grove campus vibrant in summer
by: Chase Allgood Birankai Summer Camp packed the Pacific athletic center with sparring partners in July. Events like the Aikido camp keep the campus alive while students are gone in the summer.

Walking through the Pacific University campus during the summer, it's easy to automatically assume classes are in full swing: the baseball and soccer fields and gymnasium are packed with players, classrooms are stirring with activity and the resident and dining halls accommodate a steady stream of people.

With the majority of the university's 3,000-plus students away for the summer, the campus should, by all counts, resemble a well-manicured ghost town.

Like most universities, however, Pacific stays vibrant during the summer through its Conference Services program, which utilizes all of the school's amenities to host various groups throughout the season, offering a centralized location where participants can run their programs while staying fed and housed.

Groups that use the facilities offer a wide range of activities, from athletic to social to academic. Among the groups that have held conferences at Pacific are the Focus on Book Arts conference, the Adidas tennis camp, the Point Guard College basketball camp, a USA Cycling junior training camp, soccer clinics hosted by the Portland Timbers, the Especially for Youth church camp, optometry conferences, cheerleading coach training and more. In addition, each year also includes weddings.

Sit idle

Events are typically private, but at times are open to public spectators.

'Almost every university and college I'm aware of does the same thing: lots of camps, lots of conferences,' said Lois Hornberger, the director of Conference Services. 'Most of the resident halls (otherwise) sit idle during the summertime.'

Hornberger, the former executive director of the Forest Grove Chamber of Commerce, began working with Conference Services in 2006, and said the string of activities has kept her and her staff of 10-12 student workers busy throughout summers ever since. She is also a member of the Association of College Conference and Event Directors International, a group of college conference planning professionals.

Essentially, the university serves as a full-service hotel during conferences, which range in price based on individual needs. The staff provides food (through university provider Aramark) and maintains rooms while offering technical support, facilities and more. In return, conferences get full access to the facilities and technology they need, whether they be sports camps using the soccer field, optometry conferences in the classrooms or performing groups like Music in May packing McCready Hall.

'It's housing and a meeting place all in one place, along with food service. They can stay in the resident halls, meet in the lobbies, hold things later at night,' said Hornberger. 'It's less expensive to stay in a college resident hall. All of our classrooms have the latest technology. We have the performing arts center that seats 400 for the larger groups. You can go to downtown Portland to go to the hotels, but cost is a benefit here.'

Being a university, housing in resident halls is available in old-school dorm room settings, but Hornberger said the program steers most groups to the more modern facilities of Burlingham and Gilbert halls, which are essentially air-conditioned apartments that boast Gold LEED certification for environmental sustainability.

The choice in housing options, Hornberger said, offers users opportunities to tailor the experience to their own needs.

'We have adults who come and say 'Wow, this is nothing like the college dorm I lived in,'' said Hornberger. 'Adults like to go back to that, though. They like that experience.'

Martial arts training

Earlier this summer, the university hosted the Birankai North America Aikido Summer Camp 2011, an event that drew approximately 250 people nationally and internationally to the school for a week's worth of martial arts training.

Dave Dewberry, a Forest Grove information technology worker who also teaches aikido through Multnomah Aikikai, said the university provided a perfect space for his group, which sparred in the school's athletic facilities and stayed in Burlingham Hall.

'It's a lovely campus, so it's just nice to be there,' said Dewberry. 'The hall was nice and the catering was wonderful. We really enjoyed the food and the facilities.'

The fourth-degree black belt said hosting the conference at Pacific also allowed him to show off his hometown to peers.

'We made a point, since there are so many businesses close to the campus, of making people aware that there were good restaurants and places to visit within walking distance of campus,' said Dewberry.

Awareness of the city is also a focus for the university, which places information about local businesses and attractions in guests' rooms in an effort to get them downtown and exploring.

'These groups may have things scheduled all day long, but they step out and explore a little bit,' said Hornberger. 'There are a lot of people who walk by, headed downtown.'

Bolster tourism

Jeff King, the director of economic development for the city, echoed that conferences help bolster tourism in the city by bringing people from throughout the world into the historic district.

'I think people are interested in the wine of the region and wine tours. But it certainly helps the closer businesses in downtown,' said King. 'As far as the broader interests for visitors, at any conference there's some downtime, so there's an awareness of the different attributes we have in the region.'

The conference crowd also helps fill the economic gap left by the student exodus by supplying the city with a steady stream of tourists who are often looking for something to do.

'Overall it definitely has a positive impact. If there are events going on while they're here - like the Concours or wine events or the farmers market - it gives conference attendees something different to do,' said King. 'It's been a positive thing, and we've worked closely with Lois and the university in promoting the city.'

Of course, with many conference attendees, particularly those participating in sports camps, the regimented schedules prevent them from truly exploring the city. Still, Hornberger said that simply exposing people to the university and its offerings can serve to boost interest in returning to Forest Grove.

'It depends on how much free time people at the conferences have,' said Hornberger. 'They do make it to get pizza, or walk around to Maggie's (Buns) or Grendel's. People who come will come back and say 'Wow, we didn't know Forest Grove is such a great place … we're coming back.' Hopefully they do come back and visit.'

Moreover, with so many athletic groups coming in, Hornberger said simply exposing students to what Pacific has to offer has a positive impact on attracting future students.

'Our facilities are really nice, and (many high school groups) don't get to use those nice of facilities, so we try to keep it within their price range,' Hornberger said. 'When high school students come to a college, you never know when they'll say 'I was there, and I want to go back there.' When you look at the whole utilization of facilities, it gives them exposure.'