A new Oregon State University fermentation research facility approved by the Legislature will support the state’s beer, wine and dairy industries while boosting the university’s capabilities in the field of food science.

Just before the Legislature adjourned last week, it agreed to issue $9 million in state bonds to cover half the cost of the Oregon Quality Foods & Beverage Center, with the remainder to be paid by private donations. The Tillamook County Creamery Association, which stands to reap some of the benefits from research conducted at the facility, kicked off the fundraising campaign with a $1.5 million lead gift.

The session was a mixed bag for OSU capital projects. Lawmakers dealt a major setback to ambitious expansion plans for the fledgling satellite campus in Bend, approving only $9.5 million of the $69.5 million in bonding authority sought by the university. On the other hand, legislators did sign off on a $29 million request to renovate three historic buildings on the Corvallis campus, and OSU will get a share of $50 million set aside for miscellaneous maintenance and modernization work by the state’s seven public universities.

Against that backdrop, the Oregon Quality Foods & Beverage Center is the signature project to emerge from the session for OSU.

“This puts us in pretty rarefied company,” said Dan Arp, dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “We already have what’s largely considered one of the top two brewing programs in the country, and our dairy program is on its way to being one of the best on the West Coast.”

OSU is also home to a growing winemaking program, and all three areas will be showcased in the new building.

The $18 million center will join a growing cluster of agricultural research and teaching facilities on the west side of the Corvallis campus at the intersection of Southwest 35th Street and Campus Way, near the university’s dairy farm. Construction is expected to begin in late 2018 or early 2019, with the center opening about a year later.

The 26,000-square-foot building will have classroom, office, meeting and laboratory space, but the heart of the facility will be three 3,600-square-foot pilot production plants — one for wine, a second for dairy products and a third for beer, cider and distilled spirits.

Working in the pilot plants, Arp said, will provide valuable hands-on experience for students interested in a career in food processing, winemaking, brewing, distilling or cider-making. He called the center a good fit for a state where people are intensely interested in where their food comes from.

“We’re passionate about the quality of our foods,” he said. “We want them to be sustainably produced, locally sourced and nutritious, and Oregonians are generally willing to pay a premium to get that.”

The pilot plants will also serve as proving grounds for student and faculty research projects, as well as a place where OSU scientists can team up with industry experts to develop new products. According to Arp, the Oregon Quality Foods & Beverage Center will work in tandem with OSU’s Food Innovation Center in Portland to support the state’s food and beverage sector, a $16.4 billion industry that supports nearly 32,000 jobs.

“There’s a good, strong economic base for the work we’re trying to do here,” he said.

The center will even include a small storefront where some of the more entrepreneurial students in the university’s food science programs can market their wares.

“It will be a place where we can sell Beaver-branded products such as our Beaver Classic cheeses, meats from the Clark meat lab and so on,” he said. “I think that will be fun. They’re currently available for sale, but they’re all in different locations. This will start to get them all in one place.”

While the College of Agricultural Sciences is busy raising matching donations for the Oregon Quality Foods & Beverage Center, the university will also be preparing to start work on three major renovation projects funded by the 2017 Legislature.

OSU will get $11 million in state bond money for improvements to Fairbanks Hall, the second-oldest building on campus and home to the College of Liberal Arts. Built in 1892, the 40,000-square-foot building will get a makeover that includes spruced-up classrooms, accessibility improvements and the creation of usable space on the fourth floor, which is currently out of service.

The 236,000-square-foot Cordley Hall, which houses research and classroom space for the biology, horticulture, botany, plant pathology and zoology programs, will get a $15 million package of improvements including new mechanical and electrical systems, upgraded fire and life safety systems and greater accessibility.

Gilkey Hall, built in 1912 to house the dairy science program, will be converted into an academic success center in a $5 million project funded by $3 million in state bonds and $2 million in matching funds raised by the university. The 22,000-square-foot building will get accessibility improvements as well as upgrades to fire and life safety, plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems.

OSU Cascades did not get the biggest item on its legislative wish list, a $60 million appropriation to fund construction of an academic building and student success center. Instead, the Bend campus will have to settle for $490,000 to renovate its 35,000-square-foot Graduate and Research Center and $9 million to reclaim a 46-acre pumice mine site for future expansion.

Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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