Southern Oregon University received the go-ahead from the Ashland Planning Commission Tuesday to build two new residence halls and a dining hall on the north side of Ashland Street.

Southern Oregon University received the go-ahead from the Ashland Planning Commission Tuesday to build two new residence halls and a dining hall on the north side of Ashland Street.

Each of the new buildings will be erected adjacent to the school's existing Greensprings Residential Complex, and will create more of a community-like atmosphere for students living on campus, said Jonathan Eldridge, vice president for student affairs at SOU.

The commission unanimously approved the North Campus Village project after SOU agreed to make some minor changes in the design of the dorm buildings, install additional pedestrian safety devices, and modify pedestrian routes.

"It's going to be a great place for our students "… and it's our intent to use it to attract additional students," said Eldridge. "We see the final design that we have in place was an improvement "… and we appreciate all thoughtful input from the commission."

The revised agreement calls for restructuring the pedestrian crossings at the intersection of Wightman Street and Siskiyou Boulevard into one large crosswalk linking the SOU campus diagonally across the intersection.

Additionally, the intersection will retain the crosswalks crossing Indiana and Wightman streets.

"To some extent, this is going to be a see-how-it-goes type of situation," said commission Chairwoman Pam Marsh. "One of the points of approving the SOU Master Plan was we wouldn't have to be in their business about everything."

During the meeting, Marsh said she wants the city's and SOU's policy-making relationship to move toward an outcome-based one, in which the city reviews data to determine how SOU's development is affecting transportation and other infrastructure within the city.

"Think in terms of what we're trying to achieve rather than what we are trying to do," she said.

The new dorms will replace the Cascade dining hall and residential complex, which is more than 50 years old.

One 105,039-square-foot residence hall will comprise about 430 beds and 135 semi-suite apartment-style rooms.

The other, at 89,433 square feet, will consist of about 273 beds and 78 suite-style apartments.

Eldridge said freshmen and sophomores likely will occupy the semi-suite hall, while juniors and seniors will take the suite hall. He said the suite-style rooms will be larger, include a kitchenette and will be outfitted with additional amenities.

In addition to the four-story residence halls, a separate 27,800-square-foot, one-story dining and community hall will complete the project. It will include a convenience store, a lounge area and more food options than Cascade Complex has to offer, said Eldridge.

The buildings were designed by SERA Architecture of Portland.

"We're just really pleased that the project is moving forward," said SERA Architect Kurt Schultz, who led the design team. "It's a big undertaking for Southern Oregon University "… and it will eventually be a great place for them to house their students."

The project will cost an estimated $40 million, which SOU will pay for over an extended period by entering into a ground-lease arrangement with American Campus Communities, the developer it selected for the project.

Construction on the project is set to begin April 5, said Eldridge, and should employ about 200 people for about 18 months. Locally based Adroit Construction will oversee that effort.

Before it attains the building permits, SOU still must work with city staff to complete civil engineering documents.

"We're very happy with the outcome," Eldridge said. "Especially with the support from the planning commission, and the unanimous outcome. "… It shows that this project is not just important for SOU, but for the community as a whole."

The school hopes to move students into the new halls by fall term 2013, Eldridge said.

During the next few months, SOU will be creating a new Web page for visitors to digitally explore the project, and holding meetings with students to select furnishings and appliances for the new residence halls, Eldridge said.

According to the SOU master plan, the Cascade Complex, which now houses about 600 students and a dining hall, will eventually be torn down and replaced with academic buildings.

The new development totals more than 220,000 square feet between the three structures, and is one of the largest construction projects in Ashland's history.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or by email at swheeler@dailytidings.com.