LCC Florence Center finishing up remodel

$12.5 million was devoted to upgrades for Florence campus

 Feb. 10, 2023 - 

In 1964, Lane County citizens voted to establish Lane Community College (LCC) in 

Eugene. Two years later in 1966, LCC graduated its first class and, by 1968, classes had begun at the newly constructed campus on 30th Avenue in Eugene.  

Dr. Albert J. Brauer, a Florence physician, was on the first board for LCC.

“Dr. Brauer was very interested in ensuring that the benefits of a community college education made their way to Florence,” explained Russ Pierson, Dean of the LCC Florence Center since 2015. “He started working, almost immediately, on outreach to Western Lane County.”

That same year, classes began at what is now the main LCC campus in Eugene, 1968. Thanks to the efforts of Brauer, Siuslaw High School began hosting an outreach program for the college in some of its classrooms.

That outreach program soon outgrew its space at SHS and construction began on a permanent satellite location in Florence. 

In 1976, what was at the time called the Siuslaw Area Center opened at its current location on Oak Street in Florence. The cost of building the facility at the time was approximately $400,000. 

Additions were made at the Florence campus in the late 1990s and late 2000s but, until recently, the main building has looked much as it did when it opened nearly 50 years ago.

Pierson, his staff and students were ecstatic when, in May 2020, Lane County voters passed Measure 20-306, which was a $121.5 million tax bond with $12.5 million devoted to the Florence campus.

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Work began less than a year ago in March 2022. Lease Crutcher Lewis, a general contractor out of Portland, coordinated the operation. 

Though not a complete rebuild, according to Pierson workers took the building “down to the studs” in order to stabilize and modernize the facilities. 

“Everything was tied together, so it is now seismically strong and reinforced,” said Pierson.

A new roof was put on almost the entire building. New siding was also added before the entire campus got a paint job. Almost all classrooms have been refurbished and upgraded with student-centered technology. The floor in the fitness and dance studio has been replaced. Bathrooms have been refurbished too.

The remodel followed the same footprint as the building always had, so there was no expansion of the area the school covers — but additional space has been created thanks to the movement of electrical equipment to centralized locations. 

“There was a maddeningly unusable mezzanine that now, instead, houses a lot of the HVAC equipment,” explained Pierson. “It’s one way we gained a lot of internal space. I’ve been really happy with that.”

Security was another priority when plans were made for the remodel and the results can be seen as the project nears completion. 

“Much more secure facility than before,” said Pierson. “Fewer exterior doors. We feel good about that. The office space is secure now. You have to get buzzed in.”

An emergency access road was expanded to wrap all the way around campus; another important step to ensuring the safety of the students and staff.

Other improved access includes the addition of brand new roll-up doors in the school’s art space for easy delivery of supplies.  

Pierson said, in the past, the community has reached out at times to tell him they couldn’t see his school well from Oak Street. The remodel opened up the parking area in front of the school, allowing passers-by a much better view of the school’s main building.

Another work-in-progress is the addition of rain gardens around the outside of the main building. These will help deal with run-off from Florence’s frequent rains. 

Though some monitors, furniture, HVAC and electrical equipment has yet to arrive, work is coming down the stretch with Pierson eyeing April as when he will unveil the completed project to the community.

As the remodel wraps up, the college hopes to return to some degree of normalcy around campus — something that hasn’t been the case since early 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the area.

The school office is now open regular hours, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and some classes are starting to return to an in-person set-up. One unique benefit that came as a result of the pandemic was a move towards standardization of a hybrid-style of learning that combines in-person and online classes. This has provided students with options that were unavailable to them in the past. 

Since its opened, LCC has taken the lead locally in offering career and technical education (CTE) classes — programs that often give students a much quicker path to the workforce and, in turn, their ability to make money. With the completion of the remodel, Pierson hopes the school continues to find ways to effectively provide this training.  

“Let’s say you want to be a plumber or an electrician,” explained Pierson. “You’ll be out on the job making really good money in a year or two versus someone who comes to Lane for a couple of years then goes to U of O or OSU and maybe they’re going to need a master’s or doctoral group degree. You’re also adding more financial aid you’ll have to pay back in some cases. The return on investment is sometimes more difficult with liberal arts these days than with CTE.”

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Though often providing students with a quicker path to living wages, CTE programs can sometimes be challenging in small communities like Florence.

“CTE can be harder to do in a small community,” said Pierson. “Often it takes an investment in major equipment. Also, you have to get true experts in a way that isn’t quite the same as in the transfer education world. You have to have an electrician to teach electrical stuff and paying a faculty rate for an electrician doesn’t always work out well for the electrician. We’ve started to work on ways to address these issues, though, because it’s important we offer students options.”

Other ways LCC Florence Center hopes to be the local area’s true community college is by offering community spaces. Pierson says the campus also has opportunities for community members to teach classes at the center with possibilities of help with promotion, organization and funding from the college.

“We have a way for somebody to come in and say ‘Hey, I’ve got this idea for a class,’” explained Pierson. “If we can work something out, we will publish it, charge students a little bit and pay the instructor. It’s a collaborative arrangement with that faculty member.”

Pierson wants the community to know that he and the staff at LCC Florence Center are willing to get creative and help find community members of all types a path to where they want to go with their futures.

“An author named Mark Perna wrote a book called “Answering Why,” where he talks about the current generation and how they are always asking ‘why?’” said Pierson. “You’ll tell them the sky is blue and they’ll ask ‘why?’ It’s not that they’re being smart alecks. They want to know the rationale and reasons are for things. We need to give them a clear pathway to whatever they have an interest in and let them know what the possibilities are — and wait till their eyes light up when they realize there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and that they can accomplish anything if we can show them the steps to get here.”

LCC Florence Center is located at 3149 Oak Street. 

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