SALEM — Hoping to avoid the bruising budget battles of the past two years, the state has quietly listed Oregon State University-Cascades as a separate institution in the next round of construction funding.

The new arrangement means the Bend campus will have its own priority list competing with the seven state universities. Previously, requests were folded into the overall OSU proposal.

OSU officials will no longer have to choose between whether to prioritize modernization of the Corvallis campus or building-out the Bend campus.

The policy change was included in an April 23 letter from Higher Education Coordinating Commission Executive Director Ben Cannon to state legislative leaders. It outlines how the 14-member panel will handle the 2019-21 university capital projects list.

OSU-Cascades Vice-President Becky Johnson said the system will allow for a more realistic appraisal of plans for the Bend campus.

“Being recognized in the capital process as a separate institution from OSU’s needs in Corvallis reflects the different needs and opportunities of the two campuses,” Johnson said.

OSU-Cascades will vie directly with the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon State University in Corvallis, Portland State University in Portland, Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Western Oregon University in Monmouth, and the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls and Wilsonville.

The Bend campus needs basic infrastructure and academic buildings just to meet enrollment growth, while the previous priority list policy was to give preference to maintenance and reuse of existing facilities, which put OSU-Cascades at a disadvantage.

State lawmakers had requested the letter earlier this year after the governor requested an $88 million supplemental capital budget be tacked onto the main capital budget that was approved in 2017.

While the Legislature ended up supporting most of the governor’s request, including $39 million for OSU-Cascades, it said the higher education commission needed to fully explain how it made its decisions so that in the future, the odd-year capital budgets will contain the right mix of projects so that supplemental requests will not be needed.

In the letter from the commission, Cannon noted that the past priority criteria — called “the rubric” — resulted in rating OSU-Cascades projects too low even for the commission, which usually has endorsed the staff findings.

“Commissioners highlighted the fact that the rubric did not respond well to projects that were necessary to pave the way for buildings that did not actually result in student-serving facilities themselves directly,” Cannon wrote.

The higher education commission’s standards for priorities gave special emphasis to maintenance of existing buildings and re-purposing of facilities for new student-serving functions. That did not match up well with the needs of an entirely new campus.

“We have bare land that needs roads, pathways, utilities, parking, and everything else that already exists on an established campus,” Johnson said. “We need additional academic and student success space that can’t be remodeled or re-purposed like it might be at an existing campus with aging facilities.”

OSU-Cascades’ supplemental request came after an outcry from OSU-Cascades supporters and Central Oregon lawmakers when their 2017 funding request was winnowed down from $69.5 million to $9.5 million. State officials at the time said they were following the guidance of the higher education commission.

By splitting OSU-Cascades off into a separate institution for “capital improvement” purposes, OSU officials can present two different priority lists — one for Corvallis and one for Bend.

The next top priority for OSU-Cascades is $12 million for a Student Success Center, which will be combined with $5 million from student fees for a $17 million facility.

The Corvallis campus has as its top priority a $70 million Arts and Education Complex that includes $35 million in matching funds from donors. It will request the next phase of renovation for Cordley Hall, a science education and research building, which includes a 50 percent match from other OSU sources.

Johnson said the key to making the new plan work is that stakeholders — the universities, Legislature, governor and the public — all need to be realistic about the commitment to building a major new campus in Bend. OSU-Cascades is the fastest growing campus in the fastest growing part of the state.

“The hope is that the state will recognize that they authorized an additional institution in Central Oregon many years ago, and with that additional institution should come the capital funding needed to support it,” Johnson said. “When the system grows, the total capital budget should grow accordingly — the growth at the new institution should not come at the expense of existing institutions, including OSU’s needs in Corvallis.”

Article was originally published by The Bend Bulletin.