Portland could gain new children's behavioral health center
The University of Oregon announced Tuesday that a more than $425 million gift will help create a new children's behavioral health center in Portland, at the former Concordia University campus.
With a sizable philanthropic donation from Connie and Steve Ballmer, the University of Oregon plans to launch The Ballmer Institute for Children's Behavioral Health.
By tapping UO's research programs to work with and help serve public schools and families, UO said the forthcoming center will create a "new national model" for addressing youth behavioral and mental health care. The institute aims to deliver critically needed intervention and treatment programs to Oregon's K-12 students.
Connie and Steve Ballmer are co-founders of Ballmer Group Philanthropy.
Connie Ballmer has strong ties to UO, having earned a bachelor's degree in journalism there in 1984 and serving on the university's board of trustees from 2014-21. Steve Ballmer is best known as the former CEO of Microsoft and owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team.
"Right now, the need for behavioral health services across our country is at critical levels, and there is an opportunity to strengthen and enhance the behavioral health system so that it is set up to address every child's needs — now and in the future," Connie Ballmer said. "Steve and I are excited to help bring to life this institute, which can help strengthen talent and build partnerships to create long-lasting impact for Oregon's kids and families."
University officials — along with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero — are calling the sizable donation and forthcoming children's institute transformational for Oregon.
The Ballmer Institute will be based in Portland, at the former Concordia Campus, which is co-located with PPS's Faubion pre-K-8 School. It will partner with K-12 schools across Oregon, beginning with Portland Public Schools.
"The global pandemic has only amplified the mental and behavioral health needs of students here in Portland and across the country," Guerrero said. "School districts are often ill-equipped to adequately address these barriers to learning. We have a responsibility to find innovative ways to support the holistic needs of our students and are excited for our groundbreaking partnership with the Ballmer Institute."
Julia Brim-Edwards, who serves on the PPS Board of Education, said the announcement is monumental for the school district.
"It's huge for PPS students and also for the educators that have an opportunity to participate in the institutes' programming," Brim-Edwards told the Portland Tribune, noting Faubion was built at its current location partly because Concordia University had a robust teaching program.
Concordia University closed abruptly in February 2020, prompting a class-action lawsuit from several students alleging unlawful trade practices. A trial is scheduled for April of this year in that case.
The university and its affiliate church, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, also faces a lawsuit from HotChalk, an online education management company that claims the shuttered university owes the company more than $300 million. In that case, HotChalk, which has since been sold to another company, is seeking money from Concordia's affiliates, but the company also sought a restraining order to prevent the sale of the Concordia property.
In June 2021, the Concordia campus in Northeast Portland was sold to the Lutheran Church Extension Fund for $3 million in a foreclosure sale, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. The pending court cases don't prevent the sale of the property again, a judge noted, but prospective buyers will be notified of pending litigation that could affect the property.
The UO Board of Trustees is expected to review a purchase agreement for the 23-acre campus soon.
According to the university, the new UO-affiliated institute will offer new undergraduate degree and certificate programs, pending state approval, while also providing scholarships, thanks to a $100 million endowment, to recruit "a new, diverse and culturally rich workforce." The center also aims to offer "science-based early detection, prevention, and treatment strategies" for children who need behavioral health treatment while developing and sharing new technology and research.
"Connie and Steve Ballmer, who have already provided exceptional support and inspiration for children's behavioral health, are now empowering the university to make immediate and lasting positive impacts on children's behavioral and mental health," said Michael H. Schill, University of Oregon president and professor of law. "A bold effort is needed to address the behavioral and mental health needs of our youth. This gift is monumental. It enables UO researchers and experts to build on a collective vision to develop innovative and scalable programs, and to address the need for a sustainable workforce that can work directly with our children."
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