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Agricultural complex grows over budget

Ag complex construction site. 
Photo by Cecelia Love-Zhou

On June 11, 2019, Chemeketa broke ground for a new agricultural complex. However, official construction will most likely not begin until almost a year later due to budgeting issues. 

Chemeketa originally submitted a proposal for a capital construction project through the state legislature. The state matched their $6 million proposal to create a budget of $12 million toward the agriculture complex, said Miriam Scharer, Chemeketa’s Vice President Chief Financial Officer. Currently, Chemeketa has estimated $1.5 million over that proposed budget.

“If we were to go at the $13.5 million, we’re about 12 percent over the original budget that was submitted to the state,” said Scharer. “We are over because of these additional construction costs.”

The most expensive aspect of this project, beyond the building itself, is the infrastructure, said Scharer. To create usable farmlands, the old dirt must first be removed from five acres and replaced with fresh topsoil. Infrastructure also includes the electrical, water and sewer system costs. 

Rory Alvarez, Director of Facilities and Operations, suggested the solution is to utilize “value engineering” on the project. “You know, we started with a 21,000 square foot building, now we’re down to a 14,000 square foot [one.] It’s just trying to use the money that we have to the best we can.”

“We’re going to have to, honestly, make some tough decisions about what are the key aspects of the project that we have to have and what are things that we can perhaps put aside and hope to fundraise,” said Scharer.

The team is having to reevaluate their wants versus their needs to move forward in creating this community hub. Scharer mentioned putting off certain features of the complex to add on to the building later to stick to a timeline, similar to letting go of the “bells and whistles” when car shopping on a budget.

“It’s a challenge to remain within budget because construction costs are continually increasing,” said Scharer. “The longer it takes us to finalize our design and get moving, those costs continue to rise. So we’re working with our construction manager as well as our engineers to really finalize that scope and keep that budget within what the college can afford.”

While the building is still in the planning and budgeting phase, it is hard to know for sure what the end result will look like, but there is a shared vision among those involved: a community hub.

“The building itself will be more organic. There will be wood finishes inside of it, and it’ll be [a] very rustic set up for allowing tractors to move into the actual building if needed. Soils will be used inside, so stuff like that,” said Isaac Talley, the Technical Development Manager at Chemeketa. “But I would say the fact that the whole facility is going to incorporate actual growing fields, [it] is going to be quite unique compared to anything else.”

Chemeketa’s location within the Willamette Valley makes it the ideal space for agricultural learning. This complex is to be an “agricultural hub” that will service not only students but the community as well, said Talley.

The design for the building has multiple classrooms, capable of opening up into one area spacious enough to hold large gatherings. 

The current state of agricultural programs at Chemeketa allows students to study horticulture, wine studies, agribusiness and other non-credit community classes. The hope for this complex is to create a more flexible space for both students and the community to strengthen their agricultural skills and come together. 

“The whole concept of the building was actually built on outreach,” said Holly Nelson, an executive dean for Chemeketa. “We’re calling it an agricultural hub and what we’re trying to do with that is create a space for the agricultural community to come together, whether that’s ongoing classes and support or a place to come in for meetings, for different commodity groups or leadership groups, or FFA [Future Farmers Association], or younger kids that are thinking about connecting with the agricultural community.”

The new program is also planning to allow students to smoothly transfer to Oregon State University (OSU) under the general sciences degree. 

“We did just write a grant looking at the potential of adding on a general agricultural sciences applied science degree that would be a transfer degree to OSU, and I think that would probably be our next opportunity of growth,” said Nelson. “But that would probably be a year and a half out before looking at starting something like that.”

Even with the project costs exceeding the budget, Scharer assures students not to worry, as it will not affect student tuition. 

“Students that participate in the [agriculture] programs, the horticulture programs, they aren’t going to be seeing increased costs because of the [agriculture] complex. It’s really for us, as an institution, just part of our budgetary process,” said Scharer. 

Chemeketa’s goal is to have classes held in the agriculture building by Jan. 2021.

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