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

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.