Board approves new residence halls and research lab

Transformation was the theme of the University of Oregon Board of Trustees summer meetings Sept. 4 and 5 in Portland.

The board approved plans to greatly improve students’ residence hall options and fund a new College of Design research lab that will have benefits in Oregon and nationwide. They also heard updates on projects to boost student success and the benefits of scientific discovery.

Topping the board’s slate was approval to name the Black Cultural Center for Lyllye Reynolds-Parker. After a robust public process earlier this year, UO President Michael H. Schill officially recommended naming the center after Reynolds-Parker, an alumna, longtime student advisor and activist.

Vice President for Student Life Kevin Marbury presented the nomination, which the board passed unanimously, detailing Reynolds-Parker’s many contributions and her contributions to  student success and to other areas across campus.

He said naming the center for Reynolds-Parker would honor the university’s past and inspire current and future students.

“I hope each of us recognizes the role we are playing in something that is so important for the history of the University of Oregon, the Eugene-Springfield community and the state of Oregon going forward,” said Marbury, who along with Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Yvette Alex-Assensoh was closely involved throughout the center’s development process.

The building is scheduled for completion Sept. 27. An opening ceremony is planned for Oct. 12. The center will be open to the entire campus community and was funded by private donations, including in lead gift by Nancy and Dave Petrone.

“We are well on our way toward opening a phenomenal facility,” Marbury said, adding that the university is expected to soon announce the hiring of the center’s director.

The board also approved spending $101 million on the first phase of a project that would replace the Hamilton and Walton residence complexes, among the university’s oldest student residence halls.

“We’re trying to plan for the growth we anticipate and the facilities students tell us they want,” said Roger Thompson, vice president for student services and enrollment management.

The initial steps include constructing a new hall on the site of the Humpy Lumpy Lawn at the corner of 15th Avenue and Agate Street, with groundbreaking set for November and completion slated for 2021.

The funding also covers the design of a new building that would replace Walton Hall. The open green space would be relocated to the current site of Hamilton Hall in the final phase.

“Transformation is sometimes used as hyperbole. In this case it isn’t,” said Michael Griffel, assistant vice president and director of University Housing.

The final project would result in 400 additional beds — from 1,400 to 1,800 — and increase the number of academic residential community offerings and dining options. It also includes building a prospective student recruitment and visitors center.

Trustees also unanimously approved funding of up to $8.75 million to establish the Oregon Acoustics Research Laboratory.

The laboratory would provide a facility for testing how mass timber — a fast-emerging, sustainable and often cost-effective construction material that is expected to greatly benefit the region’s timber industry — conducts sounds. It would also research people’s physiological response to being in an environment built with natural materials.

The UO would be the only university nationwide with such a lab. The 7,000-to-10,000-square-foot structure would be constructed at an undetermined off-campus site. In addition to providing a resource for university research, the facility is expected to pay for itself from fees generated by industry testing.

The project is a partnership between the UO, Oregon State University and Business Oregon, the state's economic development agency, to advance the use of mass timber in building construction.

Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, architecture professor and director of the Institute of Health in the Built Environment, told the Facilities and Finance Committee that there is “great demand” for such a lab.

“The question will be how much industry work do we want to accept because we also want to do research,” he said.

Judith Sheine, architecture professor and director of design of the Tallwood Design Institute, said the industry projects new mass timber products coming out over the next 30 years that would require testing.

In other business, Robert Guldberg, vice president and executive director of the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact, briefed the board on the current status of the campus, including the rapid progression of the skybridge that will span Franklin Boulevard and link the current campus with the new buildings.

“It’s hard to put into words how excited we are to move into this building in nine months,” said Guldberg, who recently celebrated his one-year anniversary on campus.

Guldberg pointed out that the first four researchers he offered jobs to recently accepted those offers to come to Eugene.

“If you want a metric of where we are nationally, that’s the strongest indicator,” added Provost Patrick Phillips, noting that the UO was competing against other elite universities for those hires.

In his remarks to the board, Schill noted the massive transformation underway on campus.

“If you walked through campus lately, you might think we traded the Duck for the crane as our mascot,” Schill said.

He added that some of the university’s biggest capital projects will come to completion or celebrate openings over the coming year, including the Knight Campus, Willie and Donald Tykeson Hall, the Lyllye Reynold-Parker Black Cultural Center, the Health Center, Hayward Field and Bean Hall.

He noted major progress on campus initiatives such as the student success goals, strengthening the university’s relationship with the state, and hiring exceptional faculty members and then providing them with the resources to succeed.

The Academic and Student Affairs Committee received a presentation about progress in increasing student success. That included 23 recently hired advisors settling into newly opened Tykeson Hall; developing better processes to welcome and integrate transfer students; identifying bottleneck courses that hinder fulfilling graduation requirements or that disproportionately derail students’ paths toward graduation; and designing “flight paths” that promote higher, on-time graduation rates.

The board also approved an operating budget of $1.1 billion for the 2020 fiscal year. Vice President for Finance and Administration Jamie Moffitt noted that a projected increase in enrolled students, grant funding and state appropriations combine for a projected 4.6 percent gain in revenue.

However, she also projected a 3.7 percent increase in expenses over the coming fiscal year, noting that the difference between increases in revenue and expenses will help mitigate anticipated deficits from prior years.

David Conover, vice president for research and innovation, updated the Academic and Student Affairs Committee on a host of activities related to sponsored research at the UO, including a roughly 3 percent increase in revenue from grants and awards over the previous fiscal year.

Urbanism Next was the subject of the meeting’s Academic Area in Focus, with center director and professor of architecture Nico Larco and program director Becky Steckler describing the fast growth and demand for research seen by the unit within the College of Design.

The board also welcomed the new student representative to the board, Katherine Wishnia.

Schill formally introduced the board to Patrick Phillips, the new provost and senior vice president. Phillips, a biology professor, has been a faculty member for nearly 20 years.

“I do feel dedicated to the institution and the vision President Schill and I share in making the university the best we can,” Phillips said during his remarks.

The next meetings of the board are Dec. 9-10 on the main campus in Eugene.

By Jim Murez, University Communications