COOS BAY — Nineteen years. That's the time it took from concept to ground-breaking.

After two failed bond measures, attempts at capital funding from the state that wasn't realized for six years, followed by six more years of fundraising for the state's $8 million match for the project, construction on the $21.5 million Southwestern Oregon Community College Umpqua Health & Science Technology Building is underway.

Friday afternoon a crowd gathered in front of the student recreation center to hear Southwestern President Dr. Patty Scott and other dignitaries thank those who made the much-anticipated project a reality. 

"Finally, here we are today, breaking ground on this project that will inspire the next several generations of healthcare workers and scientists," Scott told the audience. "Our supporters and advocates helped us accomplish the impossible."

Scott added that projects like the Health & Science Technology Building are exceedingly difficult in rural Oregon. No other small rural college has raised as much money from donors and grants.

"My colleagues are impressed," Scott said. "The medical community here is very progressive. They understand the importance of a partnership with the college in keeping a healthy workforce. They gave us $2 million. Thank you, Bay Area Hospital, all of the doctors, and North Bend Medical Center, for your vision."

Some of the funding will come from state bonds, some from federal grants and private donations, but most of it was raised from the community. Scott thanked Dennis and Janet Beetham, who donated a $1 million gift that became $2 million through the state match. Other large donors include Blair Holman and Ginny Tabor, Bill Lansing, Judy Morgan, the Coquille Tribe, Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and 76 Southwestern employees, along with many others in the community. 

She also thanked the Southwestern Board of Directors and Foundation Board members for their efforts.

"Our students and faculty will no longer have make do in 55-year-old facilities," Scott said. "Now they will have access to modern labs and classrooms like students and faculty elsewhere in Oregon."

Scott said community colleges were created to train people for jobs available now in the local community. 

"Our graduates already are the engineers, scientists and health care workers in our communities. This ensures we will continue to inspire and train them for the next 50 years," she said. 

Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay, who is a member of the Southwestern Foundation, also addressed the crowd, saying her father, who will be 98 next month, was on the college's board of directors when she was a child.

"He's amazed and proud of what's been done over the years," McKeown said.

McKeown applauded the community for not only stepping up to meet the state's $8 million match, but exceeding it by 50 percent. The project's construction costs have increased by 30 percent since fundraising began, so that extra money is important. 

Dr. Tom McAndrew of NBMC, who was chairman of the Bay Area Hospital board when it voted to donate $1 million, also spoke, saying the fundraising has been unprecedented. 

"A building is only a structure, but this building is a community," McAndrew said, adding that 80 percent of Southwestern graduates find employment at NBMC and BAH. 

Bogatay Construction Inc. of Klamath Falls will construct the new building. The company has local connections to the region and they understand the importance of community colleges, said Matt Bogatay, vice president. Opsis Architecture of Portland, in partnership with HGE Inc. of Coos Bay, designed the building.

The building is scheduled to be completed in fall 2020, and open for classes in January 2021. 

According to Southwestern Foundation Director Elise Hamner, Bogatay Construction will renovate 14,800 square feet of the existing underutilized Umpqua Hall (where the nursing and EMT programs are located), and add 21,500 square feet of new building space for science labs, a lecture hall, classroom and study areas.

The project will replace 54-year-old science labs and create modern, technology-rich simulation labs for the nursing, paramedic and allied health programs, as well as house its as chemistry, biology, physics and geology courses. 

Overall, the Coos Bay Southwestern campus is approximately 146 acres on the shore of Empire Lakes.

Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill Architects, a firm based in Chicago but with an office in Portland at the time, designed the original campus, with the landmark circular parking lots. The company was known worldwide, Hamner said. SOM designed Umpqua Hall and the first buildings on campus in what was called a “modern style” of architecture. The building was built in 1964 and opened in 1965. It was the original “shops building” that had vocational (now CTE) classes in it. Eventually in 1994, as the programs such as automotive and carpentry went away, the college began to use the building for storage and it housed the campus security department.

"The new building is designed to mimic that original architecture and modernize of course," Hamner said. "That we’ve done to ensure we maintain the historical integrity of the building and celebrate the history. Eventually, when the project is done we’ll be installing a historical storytelling/monument of some kind."

A grand opening celebration is set for Oct. 2, 2020. Scott invites the entire community to that event. 

Bandon Western World Editor Amy Moss Strong can be reached at 541-347-2423, ext. 305, or by email at amy.moss-strong@theworldlink.com. Follow Bandon Western World on Facebook.