Clackamas County Extension Service project heads toward approval
When Mike Bondi started working on plans for a new education center for the Clackamas County division of the Oregon State University Extension Service, he imagined one day working in the completed building.
Nearly a decade later, the project is finally inching forward. Bondi, who manages the Clackamas division, received word last month that the project's design packet had been deemed complete, moving the building closer to the start of construction.
That project promises to offer a much-needed boost in space — from 5,000 square feet total to about 22,000 square feet — for the Extension Service and its programs. The organization's current building, which Clackamas County provided in 1983, has never been an ideal space, Bondi said. Classrooms are small, each with a capacity of no more than 20 seats. An undersized kitchen meant classes to help families learn about nutrition were limited to 10 people.
Bondi and his team made the cramped space work for several years, adding a portable modular classroom to gain more room. However, with 50,000 to 70,000 people per year now seeking to access programs and classes, even creative scheduling won't allow the Extension Service to add new offerings to meet current demand.
The plan for the new building offers expanded space for the organization's 25 staffers and faculty. A 150-seat conference room will offer the flexibility to divide it into multiple smaller meeting rooms. A teaching kitchen will be six or seven times larger than current kitchen space.
The design also includes an outdoor teaching pavilion and a teaching greenhouse for master gardener clinic sessions.
"It's our first building where we're actually constructing something with our education needs, or what we do, in mind," Bondi said.
As OSU Extension Service regional administrator, Bondi has been involved in the project since the earliest days, working with two architectural firms on designs and carefully saving up money with the conviction that, despite the challenges, the center would one day become reality.
A plan for a new building for the Clackamas Extension Service Extension dates back to the early 2000s, when OSU and Clackamas Community College were considering a collaborative arrangement. Despite completing a fair amount of planning and design work, the partnership was unable to find enough money to start construction, Bondi said.
The project gained renewed energy after voters in 2008 approved the creation of the Clackamas Extension Service and 4-H Service District. The structure opened the door for the collection of taxes to support Extension Service programs, which allowed Bondi to begin setting aside money each budget period for a new building.
By 2014, the pot had grown to the point that planning for a new center was able to restart.
"That was the visioning part," Bondi said. "We've done more detailed planning as we've gotten closer and closer."
Bondi has been able to set aside about $500,000 per year, with about $7 million now available. However, market conditions in the past couple of years have pushed the original estimated cost to $10 million.
"Unfortunately, building costs have escalated faster than we could save since 2014, 2015," Bondi said.
The Extension Service has started a campaign to cover the remaining $3 million with cash contributions from donors and in-kind donations of materials, supplies and labor. Bondi hopes the fact that the building has been designed to be a showcase of modern technology and construction will spur support and involvement from the building industry
The use of cross-laminated timber and mass plywood panels, for example, is expected to make the center one of the first structures in Clackamas County to feature advanced wood technology. The center also is expected to lay claim to another groundbreaking feature as the first public net-zero building in the county.
"This is not going to be your prototypical glass-concrete-and-steel government building," Bondi said. "It's an all-wood public building featuring the latest in technology.
The focuses on wood and sustainability weren't included to drum up financial support. They're part of the Extension Service paying tribute to its roots and its main purpose. The organization's core mission centers around forestry, water and the land, Bondi said. Programs for youth, families and community members focus on supporting and promoting life learning, self-reliance and improving healthy living standards.
The selected building materials also fit with the Cascadian design style used for the center. The rustic look, which features the heavy use of logs and timbers, is common in rugged, rural areas of Oregon, such as Mount Hood. It's used less often in the Portland metro area.
"Everybody likes it, but you don't see it here that much," Michael Shea, a Soderstrom Architects principal who led design for the project, said.
Clackamas County Commissioners, however, felt the style would provide a transition between the urban and rural lifestyles while paying tribute to the manufacturing, farming and forestry that form the foundation of the economy in Clackamas County, Shea said.
The waiting game
In addition to setting the tone for the overall look of the education center building, the county will be in charge of selecting a contractor to build the project, Bondi said. The one area the county doesn't hold sway is the permitting process.
Although the new building will be located in the Red Soils Business Park, which is owned by Clackamas County, the project falls under the jurisdiction of the City of Oregon City when it comes to permitting approval. At the beginning of April, the city deemed the proposal packet for the new center complete, which started the clock ticking on a 120-day countdown period toward final approval.
"Assuming that goes forward, we will be in a position to get permits and contracts and break ground," Bondi said. "We're hoping — very optimistically — on breaking ground in late summer or early fall."
Even if construction starts this year, it's unlikely the work will be completed before June of next year, when Bondi is slated to retire. But he's not exactly willing to walk away and leave a job undone.
"The grand plan was someday I would be able to enjoy and move into what we've been planning," he said. "I'm thinking about staying on part-time to see this through."