Residents of Ashland living near the Southern Oregon University campus have likely noticed the progress being made on the renovation of our Science Building. Those living in particularly close proximity to the building have probably noticed noise associated with the building’s upgrades as well.

University staff and representatives of the companies working on the construction project met recently with a group of concerned neighbors to discuss the issue and what to expect going forward. The university wants to make sure that the entire community is knowledgeable of the situation, not only those who were able to attend that meeting.

Due to changes in code requirements for HVAC and fume hood units since the building was first constructed in 1957, the equipment being installed during this renovation is much different than the original equipment that had been in use previously. One of those differences is that, at least for the time being, the new units produce much more noise than the previous ones.

The university has already taken steps to reduce the amount of noise being put out, including hiring an acoustic engineer and investing in technology and equipment at the engineer’s recommendation. To date, we have spent more than $80,000 on additional efforts to reduce the amount of noise coming from the facility.

The equipment in question is currently in the commissioning stage, which means, among other things, that it must be in operation 24 hours a day while data is collected and various measurements taken. This data is imperative to the necessary work of balancing the system and must be completed before additional steps to mitigate the noise can be taken. The system is required to maintain positive air pressure and circulate fresh air at all times, so it cannot be turned off, even during overnight hours.

Once the system is fully balanced and the controls are operating correctly, the fans will run at a much lower velocity and should be much quieter. Our acoustic engineer is scheduled to return to campus to take additional measurements and ensure the project is in compliance with all codes and ordinances, but we cannot measure the sound levels until everything is running as designed.

It is expected that those measurements will help inform the university regarding what noise abatement may be necessary. We are committed to investigating further mitigation strategies and taking any reasonable action to ensure our operations are not an intrusion into the lives of our neighbors. That said, it would be an imprudent use of public funds to prematurely engineer a solution to an unknown problem, so we must wait until construction activities are complete before any necessary noise abatement can begin. Until we have the system fully in balance, any mitigation strategies would be presumptive.

The university makes a sincere effort to minimize any negative effects we may have on our community. In this case, again, we are committed to taking the necessary steps to reduce the noise entering the neighborhood from our new equipment, but we must first complete the construction project and be able to measure and understand the severity of the issue that we are trying to address. We understand the concerns of residents living near campus and appreciate the respectful manner in which those concerns have been raised, and we ask that those in the neighborhood around campus be patient and trust that we will work to remedy the situation as soon as we are able to.

Drew Gilliland is director of facilities management and planning at Southern Oregon University.