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Pacific raises the stakes


Officials plan new residence hall, classier university center and higher enrollment

There are big changes in the works at Pacific University.

On the Forest Grove campus, school leaders want to construct a bigger and greener residence hall to replace Clark Hall; remodel Washburne University Center; and transform the north entrance to showcase a new open space with better walkways and aesthetic enhancements — all by 2020.

They also want to add several degree options at other campuses, design and construct a third building in Hillsboro and increase the endowment to $100 million.

Hand-in-hand with these improvements is an overarching goal to attract 600 additional students, bringing both undergraduate and graduate enrollment from about 1,700 students each up to 2,000.

And the growth won’t necessarily stop there. In an address to the university, Pacific University President Lesley Hallick wrote the enrollment goal was “at least” 2,000 for both levels of study. According to Pacific’s Director of Media Relations, Joe Lang, officials will continue to evaluate the capacity for more students after meeting this goal.

“We’re positioned for growth right now,” Lang said. With current undergraduate tuition at $35,260 a year, enrollment numbers have a significant impact on the institution’s operating budget, he added.

The renovations and new degrees “are important in helping us attract and retain undergraduate students in an increasingly competitive market,” Hallick wrote in her address.

Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax said city officials support Pacific’s plans. He was particularly excited about the preliminary sketches of the proposed open space on the north side of campus.

“That’s a much better entrance to Forest Grove than the side of Clark Hall,” said Truax, who also supports Pacific’s goal of increasing enrollment.

More students would mean not just more customers for Forest Grove businesses, he said, but also more community-service projects and more internships with the city and with local companies, particularly given the university’s new, energized business department. (Pacific’s new College of Business is set to launch July 1 in Forest Grove.)

Demographics changing

The planned renovations respond to changes in Pacific’s traditional student pool — 18-year-olds right out of high school.

“There’s a growing number of choices people of all ages have in terms of what they want to do,” Lang said. “The traditional student route — right from high school to college — is declining for a variety of reasons. We’re really looking at the cultural and demographic trends so we can engage the interests of prospective students.”

The preliminary plan places a new LEED-certified, highly efficient residence hall on Reynolds Field on University Avenue, between Clark Hall and the covered tennis courts.

According to Lang, the proposed new hall would hold 400 students, twice as many as Clark.

Some wonder whether there will be enough classroom space to accommodate the gradual increase in students.

The university’s plans for its health-professions campus would help address this potential problem. Pacific’s optometry department would leave the Forest Grove campus (the Pacific Eye Clinic would stay) and move to the proposed new building in Hillsboro, freeing up space in Jefferson Hall for undergraduate programs.

Meanwhile, new additions currently in the works could help. Next fall’s Sociology 102 class, for example, will be the university’s first Saturday class.

A year later, in Fall 2014, Pacific will offer its first online-only bachelor’s degree—a health science program administered in Hillsboro aimed at working professionals. Those students are included in the increased enrollment goal but won’t require classroom space.

Lang also said Pacific will likely hire more faculty members to maintain a low student-to-faculty ratio.

Project nuts and bolts

Lang said the university will put out a Request for Proposal for the new residence hall during the first full week in June. RFPs for remodeling the university center and for redesigning the north side of campus will follow in the coming weeks or months.

Before they determine any specifics, he added, university leaders will have to meet with architectural firms to estimate costs, and it’s all contingent on refinancing — which will take several weeks — and additional fundraising and donations.

As a result of currently low interest rates, Pacific University’s Board of Trustees gave administrators the go-ahead to refinance bond debt, most of which is owed to the city of Forest Grove. By using the city to issue the bonds, Pacific can get tax-exempt rates.

The city council was scheduled to discuss Pacific’s refinancing proposal Tuesday evening — and likely to approve it, Truax said.

“It helps in the development of a crucial partner to the city of Forest Grove,” he said.

“The fact that we get some money in our general fund is always a help too,” Truax said, estimating a payoff of $90,000 or more.