NEWPORT — Members of the Newport Planning Commission recognized Monday that the community can’t accommodate the number of Oregon State University students, faculty and staff expected in the next year. This influx will inundate the city’s already-impacted housing market, made all the more problematic by a lack of construction so far on student housing.
“They’re looking at a couple of different options,” said Derrick Tokos, Newport’s community development director. “Hopefully they will be making a call in the next month or two as to how they want to proceed. It’s not lost on them that they need to get this done.”
Despite purchasing five acres in the Wilder housing development in South Beach, OSU, which will open the Marine Science Initiative building next year, has not started construction on student housing in the area. Construction costs that exceed university officials’ expectations are part of the delay, according to Newport city staffers.
While there is currently some housing for Hatfield Marine Science Center students, that 100 to 110-bed housing complex is already at 100 percent occupancy most of the year, according to OSU officials.
Original student housing plans, approved by the planning commission, started with the concept of erecting several small buildings before university officials decided to move to constructing three larger buildings. Newport officials said the school only expected to build one building right away.
“Our commitment is to provide housing for students,” said OSU Vice President of University Relations Steve Clark. “We’re in the process of completing a complex evaluation. We anticipate completing that evaluation soon.”
However, with no official timeline for beginning construction on more student housing, the Newport City Council and the planning commission have expressed concern. At least one county official said even if construction started soon, housing wouldn’t be done in time for students who come to Newport next summer, and local officials are very aware the clock is ticking.
“They haven’t indicated exactly how quickly they’re going to ramp up enrollment,” said Tokos. “The only thing I had from Dave Craig at OSU Housing was that for the immediate or foreseeable future, they don’t see enrollment exceeding what the current housing can accommodate except for summers. He doesn’t have a really good answer for summer at this point.”
The new Marine Science Initiative building can accommodate academic activities and research for up to 500 people, according to city documents. The new facility might not see 500 students right away, but no one really knows how many people it will draw to the community.
“Year-round activity is dependent on research and teaching occurring during the year,” said Clark. “It depends on programming for the M.S. program. We don’t anticipate 500 students immediately.”
Until the university builds student housing, many students will have to commute an hour each way to and from Corvallis, according to city planning commissioners.
“They may not have a choice,” said Lee Hardy, planning commissioner, of OSU’s marine science students.