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Architectural drawing shows what a new housing facility planned at Columbia Gorge Community College in The Dalles will look like when completed. Construction is planned to begin in July.

After years of planning, construction scheduled to begin in July

When Columbia Gorge Community College requested Oregon Legislative support to build a skills training center back in 2013, it didn’t expect to be launching construction amid the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Yet that’s turning out to be the case, and if history is any indication, the new facility — scheduled for groundbreaking this summer — will be opening just in time to help displaced workers rebuild their lives.

Meanwhile, a second facility will help address the critical need for affordable student housing.

The skills center, to be located on The Dalles Campus, will expand the college’s welding program into a state-of-the-art metal fabrication program. The new building, made possible through state legislative funding and the financial commitment of community partners, will also support a construction trades program and aviation maintenance training.

“The expansion is designed to meet two longstanding unmet needs,” said Dr. Marta Yera Cronin, college president. “The first is a skills gap in our Mid-Columbia region, where employers have been unable to hire and retain employees with the right skills to help their companies grow in a competitive marketplace. The second need was the college’s own lack of suitable instructional space for industrial arts, carpentry and other trades of high demand in our region. The skills center will help us address both of these shortfalls.”

Likewise, the 2020-21 capital construction program will help address another critical shortage in the region, for affordable housing. Students seeking to enroll at the college have struggled with this challenge for years, as many live with friends and family – some even sleeping in their cars, according to a demand study the college completed in 2018.

In response, the college sought and received permission from Oregon Department of Justice to use a portion of construction funding on student housing. This will comprise approximately 50 beds in a new, two-story structure on The Dalles Campus.

“It’s so crucial for the sustainability of the college, and a much-needed addition for the community, whether in regards to the skill center or student housing,” said Kim Morgan, college board chair. “I have been a champion of this from the beginning, and I’m so happy we are going to be breaking ground soon, and greet this new era for our college. I believe that without this, Columbia Gorge Community College would have stagnated. I could not see that happen.”

Construction of the skills center and residential hall will proceed simultaneously starting in July. Completion is scheduled for the summer of 2021. The skills center will be located just west of the Ft. Dalles Readiness Center, adjacent to the campus access road. The residential hall will be downslope in the center of campus, overlooking the outdoor amphitheater.

The Oregon Legislature allocated $7.3 million for the project, contingent on dollar-for-dollar match through non-state funding. The college achieved that match in February 2019, thanks to commitments of $3.5 million from Wasco County and City of The Dalles, together with the college’s own full faith and credit bond. No new tax measure was required. The city and county share are made possible through an enterprise fund derived from the Google data center development at Port of The Dalles.

“We are excited for the opportunities this new facility will provide to both our youth as well as our adults,” said Scott Hege, Wasco County Commission chair. “Providing training for a career in the trades is essential and a great path for many in our region. We look forward to this facility being open to serve this need.”

“The City of The Dalles is pleased to partner with Columbia Gorge Community College in an endeavor that will provide high-quality education and meaningful workforce training for our citizens,” said Julie Krueger, city manager. “Supporting this project, which will so positively impact our community, is an excellent use of enterprise zone funds. The skills center and housing projects are well aligned with the city council’s goals of partnering with entities to improve coordination of services, promote economic development opportunities and enhance community livability.”

The Port of The Dalles is another key supporter, providing a $1.5 million low-interest loan to support construction pending enrollment in the new training programs.

Other critical support came from North Wasco County School District, which is designated as a formal partner by the Oregon Legislature to foster the transition of high school students into community college, and Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue District, where an apprenticeship program will benefit from the campus housing project. Both the school and fire districts supported college access to the enterprise fund, ahead of their own priority projects.

“Supporting this project provides a worthwhile impact to our community and is a step forward in further enhancing Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue’s student volunteer program,” said Chief Robert Palmer. “The skills center, housing project and future paramedic program are well aligned with the fire district’s goals of collaborating with entities to improve service levels, promote economic growth and further enhance the community environment,” Palmer added.

A single project team is responsible for developing the skill center and residential housing: In addition to college leadership, these are project manager PlanB Consultancy of Lake Oswego; architect Opsis LLC of Portland; and construction manager / general contractor Bremik Construction, also of Portland. Project team members completed design development on both facilities in February and are now completing construction documents. College staff are working with community partners to establish a ground-breaking date for early July.As it did with its previous major capital construction project in 2008, the college will be posting a live webcam link once construction begins.

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