OSU agrees student housing is important

I read with interest the News-Times Oct. 24 story regarding Oregon State University’s opening in 2020 of its marine studies building within the campus of the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

OSU joins with Newport and Lincoln County community members, business and elected leaders and researchers and students of all ages in being enthused about this new addition to Oregon’s coast. This research and teaching center will serve to advance the vital science of our oceans and will contribute to a thriving coastal community and economy.

OSU’s construction of this building — as well as the launch several years ago of the university-wide marine studies initiative — has been paralleled by a comprehensive university evaluation of providing student housing within Newport outside of the tsunami zone. Locating new student housing outside of the tsunami zone was a requirement I stipulated on Aug. 4, 2016, when I announced the location of the marine studies building at HSMC. At the same time, OSU recognizes that adding more marine studies students and employees at HMSC may worsen an already serious mid-coast housing situation without additional university-owned and operated student housing.

The headline and recent reporting in the News-Times incompletely and inaccurately addressed what is occurring as the university plans for student housing in Newport.

To be clear, OSU already provides more than 100 beds of housing within the HMSC campus. So when a headline reads: “OSU project won’t include student housing,” that is incorrect. In fact, the university does provide student housing, and we remain committed to provide students safe and affordable housing choices while enrolled in Hatfield-based marine studies programs and research.

Over the past few years, the university has evaluated admissions projections for students who might participate in marine studies on the coast. As well, we have sought to project accurately the possible number of OSU faculty and staff that might work within HMSC as a result of the new building’s opening. We have sought to understand the timing of when students would live in Newport. For example, not all students would be in Newport year-round. In some academic terms, fewer students may be in residence than during the summer months. As well, we recognize that some students may reside in Newport for a few weeks of a term, and that still others may choose to commute from their Corvallis residence.

While we have set a goal for teaching up to 500 students over the course of a year at Hatfield, we recognize that growth in student numbers will occur over many years. The number of faculty and staff working in the building will increase over time as well. The variability of when and how long individual students, faculty and staff will be engaged in activities in Newport is a critical factor in developing the design and scope of housing to be provided.

Over the past few years, we have prudently examined construction costs — all at a time that Oregon and the nation have seen record increases in the cost of construction. All the while, we have listened with appreciation and acknowledgement as local community, business and government leaders have told us that housing for students associated with the marine studies initiative is a priority.

This is a priority that we agree with.

But a student housing priority — just like all priorities being addressed by any Oregon city, county, special service district, university or local government — requires that OSU, as a public university, thoroughly evaluates all matters, timing and costs. And only when that information is complete, to make and announce a housing plan. That is the place Oregon State is at now.

University officials will announce OSU’s plan in a meeting in November with local community leaders, while also explaining the many considerations and the time it took to create this plan.

We recognize that many members of the Newport and Lincoln County community have wanted to see contractors working on student housing for a long time. We recognize that they deserve a clear sense of the university’s plans. We also understand that many coastal governments and institutions say they may want to collaboratively invest in opportunities to address the local housing shortage.

We intend for November’s meeting to articulate OSU’s plans regarding additional student housing in Newport. We also believe the meeting may open the door to immediate conversations between the university and local institutions that will consider the specifics — not just the possibilities — of collaborative housing agreements that might result in additional work-force housing in Newport.

Going forward, we pledge more regular, detailed and complete communications with the Newport and Lincoln County community about important matters such as student housing.

 Ed Ray is the president of Oregon State University.


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