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Staying alive

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Articles - Nov/Dec 2012
Monday, November 05, 2012

Education, medical

1112 StayingAlive 04
Edna Holmes Hall at Lewis & Clark in Portland is one of many examples of Oregon colleges building more housing to accommodate a growing student population.
// Photo courtesy Lewis & Clark College/Robert Reynolds

Talk to almost any major construction firm in Oregon these days, and just about all of them have a recent student housing project in their portfolio. Hoffman? University of Oregon’s $71.5 million East Campus residence hall. Walsh Construction? Portland State University’s $90 million University Pointe at College Station and Lewis & Clark College’s $8.4 million Edna Holmes Hall. Adroit Construction of Ashland? Southern Oregon University’s $40 million Cascade dormitory. The list goes on.

“Student housing, whether it’s owned institutionally or privately, is certainly a strong sector and has maintained strength through the downturn,” says Saito of Gerding Edlen, which managed a recent $20 million housing project for Lane Community College.

Part of the reason is simple supply and demand. Additionally, some institutions, short on capital, have turned to a partnership approach with private developers. At PSU, for example, the school leased the land for University Pointe to Texas developer American Campus Communities, which then built and owns the building.

Other education projects, from the $6 million seismic retrofit of SOU’s Churchill Hall by Ausland Group to a $10 million renovation of the University of Portland’s library by Todd Construction of Tigard, have kept builders busy as well. Similarly, local bond measures have led to K-12 building projects for some firms, including Todd, which will build Portland’s $37 million Parkrose Middle School in the coming year. And Oregon State University’s plans to expand its Cascades campus in Bend into a four-year university by 2015 likely will require some new construction or renovation just down the road.

Yet the bright education spot may be dimming. For starters, the Legislature only approved $265 million in capital construction funds for the 2011-13 biennium, down from $758 million in 2009-11. Along the same lines, earlier bond measures for schools, fire stations and other public projects are winding down.

“I think we’re seeing the tail end of what was passed when the economy was still pretty good,” says Ausland. “We may be cycling out of those institutional projects.”

Like education projects, health care construction has been strong over the past few years. Smaller clinics as well as large hospitals — such as the $9.3 million Curry Medical Center in Brookings and Kaiser Permanente’s under-construction, $344 million Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro —have kept crews working steadily. The state, too, is building two new hospitals to the tune of $458 million to replace the existing Oregon State Hospital.

But all this could be tapering off.

“There may be more of that that’s in the rearview mirror,” says Eberwein. “Most of the big guys did a lot of the big projects, and now they’re catching their breath. Generally speaking, even though it never really goes away, health care is taking a breath.”

Part of that has to do with the slower economy, but part may also be the uncertainty related to health care reform.

“In health care,” says Brent Schafer, president of Todd Construction, which built the hospital in Brookings, “it seems like people are being kind of cautious about the election and health care reform, and waiting to see how all that is going to shake out.”


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