COOS BAY — For the first time in nearly 30 years, Southwestern Oregon Community College is about to break ground for a new academic building.
The Health and Science Technology Building has been in the works for almost 20 years, a goal for the college and Board of Education since the late 1990s. Not only that, but $10 million for the $17 million project came from the community through fundraisers and donations.
But for a long time, no one was sure if it would even happen because the last time SWOCC went out for a bond measure was in 2004, which failed.
Then the state didn’t offer capital funding for projects again until 2005, which the college used for a project on its Curry County campus.
“We put in with the state for this project in 2007, but then the recession happened,” said Patty Scott, SWOCC president.
Finally in 2013, SWOCC secured state funding through a matching grant for $8 million.
“So here we are in 2018 with the money to match the grant,” Scott said. “It was no small task.”
Some of the funding is coming from state bonds, some from federal grants and private donations, but mostly from the community.
“The college has struggled over the years on how to pay for this new building and bond measures tend not to pass here,” said Elise Hamner, foundation director for the college. “Coos Bay School’s bond passing is unprecedented and is good, but looking at this three years ago we didn’t know if we would pass a bond for $4 million so instead we decided to fundraise and the community support we received has been overwhelming.”
Hamner said that $10 million for the project came from the community-generated funding, aside from a $3 million federal grant.
“It’s because the people of this community understand how important it is to do this,” Hamner said.
Not only that, but the local Beetham family made a matching pledge of one dollar to every dollar donated up to $1 million.
Now SWOCC plans on securing a contractor for the new building either in February or March. Once secured, ground will be broken sometime in March or April.
“We anticipate having classes in there by the winter term of 2020,” Scott said. “It is expected to be finished being built in the fall of 2019.”
The new building will become the home for SWOCC’s nursing and EMS program, as well as its chemistry, biology, physics, and geology courses. All of SWOCC’s science labs will be found there as well.
“That’s six programs in total,” said Ali Mageehon, the vice president of instruction. “To start, all of our faculty in those programs will move over to the new building, but our hope is to have nursing labs and double the size of our nursing cohort.”
Mageehon recognized that health care is a critical need on the Southern Oregon Coast. With the possible expansion of SWOCC’s nursing program through the new building, Mageehon said it could bring the college closer to educating more local nurses needed in Coos and Curry counties.
“The demand for nurses is the number one industry need for our area,” she said. “It’s because we have a lot of nurses retiring and also retirees that need healthcare.”
Hamner explained that right now SWOCC’s graduating nurses fill up most jobs at Bay Area Hospital.
“But we also have community hospitals in Reedsport, Gold Beach, and Coquille that all need to hire nurses so if Bay Area Hospital hires them all, those little hospitals are forced to look out of the region and it’s hard to compete salary-wise,” she said.
Wages for nurses in Coos and Curry counties start out around $70,000 a year. The average debt for the students graduating from the SWOCC nursing program, after two years, come in around $26,000.
“So that’s more than the traditional community college enrollment, but it pays off,” she said.
The new Health and Science Technology Building will also be designed to meet the needs of today’s students.
“That means it will have collaborative space, students can charge devices versus our buildings built in the ‘60s where students only had to get out of their car, go to class, then leave, so this will be a popular spot for all students,” Scott said.
“This is grassroots economic development,” Hamner said. “You change how people think. There’s no better investment.”
Overall project cost is projected at approximately $17 million, which includes all phases from design and permitting to construction to purchase and installation of equipment.
More information is available on our project website.
COOS COUNTY — Once a year, the homeless are counted. Across the nation at the end of January, state agencies work with local partners to count both sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals.
For the new 2018 Point in Time Count, Oregon Coast Community Action has plans to spread it out across three days instead of cramming it into one.
“We’ve divided the days so we can more effectively count, as well as utilize our volunteers,” said Maggie Sackrider, ORCCA’s interim essential service operations director.
The count begins in Bandon and Coquille on Jan. 30. Coos Bay, North Bend and Charleston are to be counted on January 31, and Myrtle Point and Powers are to be counted on Feb. 1.
“The purpose of the count and why it is done nationally, is to assess the homeless population and utilize resources appropriately,” Sackrider said. “It helps us to understand the homeless situation in each county and since it is done nationally, we can rank how we stand in other places.”
But last year’s count of 367 homeless individuals bewildered ORCCA and other local agencies.
The World reported how none of the local services agreed with the results, instead showing skepticism that the decreased numbers don’t reflect reality.
“This is not even close to the numbers we have,” said Mike Lehman, executive director of Oregon Coast Community Action (ORCCA) said in a previous interview. “At best, those numbers should be even with 2015, which were about 600 because every program we run show that homelessness has gone up dramatically over the years. The numbers don't reflect reality.”
The 2017 count showed a 6 percent increase statewide for those living in shelters or on the streets, with nearly 14,000 people in Oregon without a place to call home, but locally that number decreased.
The county’s unsheltered population went from 612 in 2015 to 397, while its sheltered population was listed at zero.
Eric Gleason, health promotion director for Coos Health and Wellness, previously told The World after the 2017 report was published that he didn't believe the numbers either and was especially skeptical that the report showed zero homeless in local shelters.
“The fact that the count on the site showed that there are zero in the shelters is clearly not the case because our shelters are full,” Gleason said. “Based on what we know and looking at the numbers, the homeless population is underrepresented. After analyzing the data, I would say there are gaps in it.”
Because the 2017 count numbers came in lower than what agencies are experiencing throughout the year, ORCCA hopes stretching the 2018 count over three days will collect more accurate data.
“This is one of the reasons why this year we stepped back and reassessed how we do things,” Sackrider said. “We’re sending out requests in the community for volunteers, getting more people involved.”
Right now ORCCA has two people designated to Curry and Coos counties for the county. ORCCA has also reached out to community partners to help in the planning process.
“To get as accurate numbers as possible, we’re asking for 60 volunteers in Coos County,” she said. “The accuracy of the count is reflected on participation from our entire community, that includes the housed, the folks who help administer the county, and the homeless folks too. We’re hoping to stress to them the importance of coming to us to be counted.
“It’s important because those numbers dictate the resources allocated to our area.”
The homeless count also shows ORCCA how successful it is in getting people back on their feet.
“If our numbers start going down, we know we’re doing our job and helping folks,” she said. “Right now we need to get the tool to the level of accuracy first to assess how well we’re doing.”
To volunteer to help administer the count, call Sackrider at 541-435-7083.
As for others who may see the count happening later this month, Sackrider asks that they be understanding.
“So many of us are just a paycheck away from being in that exact situation,” she said. “It’s really easy for some portions of the community to have judgments on the homeless, to put blame on and tell ourselves there is a reason why they are where they are and it couldn’t happen to us.
“But understanding that could be us at any stage in our life is scary, but we’re hoping that events like this can bring awareness to the community. Making a human connection to the homeless folks, getting to know them and their situation can bridge our community and we can start addressing issues surrounding poverty.”