The new two-story Jefferson Public Radio Studio complex is about 80 percent complete and, while staff is eager to flee the cramped and outdated digs of the past 46 years, JPR Executive Director Paul Westhelle notes their “trepidation” at the impending challenge of moving all their equipment by March 1 in ways that won’t interrupt broadcast.

Strolling the noisy, muddy and still-empty building on the southwest corner of the Southern Oregon University campus, Westhelle pointed out the location of every desk, wall, studio, CD library, engineering room and broadcast studio, pointing with special pride to the moveable glass wall and stage that will allow live and on-air music performances either indoors or, during warm weather, opening to an outdoor audience.

“We can do it closed or not," Westhelle said. "We’ll be getting students and the public more involved. We’ll be seeing live (music) sets weekly with musicians in the region and also notables such as Greg Brown and Michael Franti.”

The stage is on the northwest corner of the new building. JPR offices and studios are on the north face. An atrium or “great hall” joins with the old Performing Arts building — now the the Oregon Center for the Arts Complex — which underwent extensive remodeling during the project.

Indicating the grassy area fronting the Music Building and Theater Arts, Westhelle says plans are in the works for a stage there, where viewers can relax on the lawn.

JPR has operated in a 4,200-square-foot space in the basement of SOU’s Central Hall, much of it carved out of old classrooms and hallways. The new space, with 7,000 square feet just for JPR, cost $2.75 million. Of this, JPR raised $1.25 million from listeners and donors, with the rest coming from capital funds approved by the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

“People are very excited. They’ve been walking by on lunch hours and watching the building go up,” he says. “We feel excitement and trepidation about staying on the air without interruption. We may have to move some equipment at night, but it will get done.”

With the general increase in concern about earthquake safety, one significant precaution, he notes, is that JPR has a big generator to ensure it can be an unshakeable communications center for the region. It’s outside on the east face.

Central Hall’s roof has for many years shouldered JPR’s “distribution hub” (all the equipment for sending the signal hundreds of miles in all directions), but now that will move to Mt. Baldy, east of Phoenix.

JPR studios and the expansion of the Performing Arts building are being buildt by Ausland Group of Ashland, Medford and Grants Pass. Its superintendent, Derrin Kerr, called it “a wood structure with white brick veneer.” They also did the Churchill Hall remodel a few years ago.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.