SOU Will Invite Public Participation In Replacing Old Dorms With Senior Housing

ASHLAND, ore. — Southern Oregon University (SOU) is working on formulating a request for proposals that they would like to see rolled out by spring or summer 2024, according to  SOU President Rick Bailey. The purpose of the proposals will be the creation of a community residential center for senior citizens on the Southern Oregon University campus in Ashland, built on the land where a former residence hall and dining facility is to be demolished.

Covering 5 acres bounded by Oregon, Indiana, and Madrone streets, the buildings comprise eight dormitory buildings and a dining facility. No longer occupied by students, the buildings have been used on occasion for temporary offices during remodel projects and sometimes by the campus ROTC. Being a state-owned property, the use arrangements will still need to be ironed out, but it is unlikely that the property will be sold. State and federal funding sources may be made available to help finance the project.

Initially driven by the desire to diversify the institution’s revenue stream, finding entrepreneurial ways to keep it affordable and accessible, the concept will ultimately be a public-private partnership in some form, between the university and a developer. Around the country, several universities have developed similar arrangements, although specifics vary, with varying levels of interactions between students and residents, and differing housing options for residents.

An AARP report updated in 2020 listed four new projects scheduled to come online by this year. Spread across 30 states, over 100 senior living facilities are active on or near university and college campuses. Two of these are run by Pacific Retirement Services- based in Medford, which operates the Rogue Valley Manor, and opened a retirement facility in 2021 on the campus of Arizona State- called Mirabella, on a corner of ASU’s campus. The facility includes shared spaces for Mirabella residents as well as students, who also live in the building, and is a joint venture between PRS and a  nonprofit affiliated with the university.

At SOU, the on-campus development on falls under a master plan developed with the city of Ashland, and the university consulted with Ashland development officers on the project. SOU President, Rick Bailey, confirmed that the university has taken note of the interest shown by the community in the project and is confident that both the stakeholders and the community will have a voice in the initiative, explaining that education and general funding would not be applied to the project, which would primarily be financed through the partnership with the public. “We have made some good progress since the idea first started to percolate about 18 months ago,” the president said.

Contributors to date include Rob Patridge – general counsel of SOU; Jeanne Stallman- SOU government relations and outreach associate VP, and sociology faculty Noriko Toyokawa and Larry Gibbs from the sociology faculty- both of whom are well versed in senior living studies. SOU anticipates a unique project that is fully integrated into the institution.

Seniors taking up residence could enroll in classes on campus- not just audit them. Collaboration would be encouraged in student activities and lectures as well as theatre arts and athletic events, with gym access also being considered. The on-campus Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) program on campus is also likely to seek partnerships. Located just beyond the Cascade site, the program has more than 1,700 seniors already enrolled in peer-taught courses annually.  Aside from their aim of advancing lifelong learning on campus, the venture will provide housing while raising revenue for the university. There are at least five OLLI centers already operating around the US with some form of affiliation with campus senior residential facilities.

A request for proposals to demolish the existing buildings will be communicated in the near future as the demolition of the Cascade complex is scheduled to take place this summer or fall as the state allocated funds for demolition after analyzing the site. Built in the 1960s, Cascade was used as a residence hall until the Shasta and McLaughlin units were completed in 2013.

Heather Inghram, OLLI administrative director is looking forward to the combined future of SOU, OLLI at SOU, and the broader community.”We are excited about it because it seems like a natural fit,” she said.


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