A funky basement with a rat’s nest of wiring has been Jefferson Public Radio’s home on the Southern Oregon University campus for almost 50 years.
That will change in 2017 when JPR moves into a new, $2.5 million building that will be in a prominent and easily accessible location next to a planned $11 million addition to the university's performing arts center on Mountain Avenue.
“We’re not just moving out of a funky space,” said Paul Westhelle, JPR executive director. “We’re creating a nice event space for the campus and the community.”
Over the past seven months, JPR has raised $1.15 million for the project, with plans to finance any remaining costs. Construction should start in April 2016.
The 6,500-square-foot, two-story building will be nearly half-again the size of the current 4,500-square-foot studio.
Westhelle said much of the existing broadcasting gear that requires cables will be replaced with newer equipment that's smaller and has fewer wires. Some of that equipment will come thanks to a one-day, on-air fund drive on Thursday that raised more than $30,000.
Students and community members will be able to sit in on performances of musicians who stop by the JPR studios. A 40-seat performance room will have sliding windows that open onto a patio area so that passersby can hear the music.
Musicians often have difficulty getting equipment into the current studio in the basement of Central Hall, but the new facility will have a driveway that will simplify the unloading of instruments. Westhelle said musicians currently often leave their instrument cases in his office in order to have enough space to perform in while they're on air.
Westhelle said JPR has up to four students who receive training on radio broadcasting in the basement studios. He said the new building will allow more participation by students.
The performance room and adjoining conference room in the new building will be downstairs, along with administrative, engineering and office space. The second story will feature control and production rooms as well as a music library.
Radio hosts are currently crammed into tiny spaces full of production gear and wires that drop down from the ceiling and poke out of the walls.
“Being tall, perhaps more than some, I am somewhat aware of the low-hanging wiring,” said Don Matthews, JPR's classical music director.
Matthews welcomed the new facility, which will have better soundproofing for his booth and will still be located on the SOU campus.
JPR is actually a collection of radio stations that feature classical, rhythm and news and news and information that are broadcast in an area stretching from Mendocino, Calif., to Eugene, reaching some 1 million listeners in a 60,000-square-mile area.
Westhelle said the size of JPR, with its $2.5 million annual budget, places it in the top 15 percent of public radio stations in the country.
In 2011, Bruce Larson donated the old Medford Grocery Warehouse at the corner of 10th and Front streets in Medford so that JPR could build its studios there. JPR also purchased property across the street for its expansion efforts.
With those plans dropped, Westhelle said, JPR hasn’t figured out what it will do with the properties and is awaiting a decision on whether the Larson family wants the building returned.
David Humphrey, director of the Oregon Center for the Arts at SOU, said the new building for JPR will open up more opportunities for students to learn broadcasting skills.
“We are thrilled that they are going to be a part of this complex,” he said.
The remodeling of the performing arts center will require it to be shut down until fall 2017, he said. The money from the project was approved by the Oregon Legislature this year.
Other venues, including the Craterian Theater in Medford, will be used for performances while construction is under way.
The new theater will offer more space for students to learn voice and speech training, scene design, costume, technology and other courses related to theater arts.
“We have 300 students majoring in a building designed for 60,” Humphrey said.
The theater will look similar after the remodel but will receive new lighting and sound equipment, Humphrey said. The lobby will be extensively remodeled.
A new plaza area will allow for outdoor performances, similar to the Green Show performances outside the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Humphrey said.
The addition to the performing art center will be between 15,000 and 20,000 square feet. Humphrey said the exact square footage won't be certain until construction bids are received in early 2016. He noted that the valley has a lot of construction under way, and some bids have come in over budget.
“We’re kind of holding our breath,” Humphrey said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.