The City of Roseburg will remain a funding partner for a proposed allied and mental health college despite the project receiving less money from the Oregon State Legislature than city officials hoped, they said.

This month, the legislature approved $10 million for the college, which will offer bachelor’s and advanced degrees in nursing, counseling, physical therapy and other fields. Funds needed to establish the college are about $30 million, according to Wayne Patterson, executive director of the Umpqua Economic Development Partnership.

The City Council signed a memorandum of understanding with Oregonians for Rural Health, the lead organization for the project, committing funds of up to $10 million in May.

With the legislature and the city on board, the process of securing at least one-third of the funds needed to establish the college is just beginning, Patterson said.

People lobbying the legislature initially requested $15-20 million for the project, according to city documents. The agreement between the city and ORH was contingent upon legislative funding of more than $10 million. But city officials are confident ORH will obtain the remaining funds, and they don’t think city support greater than $10 million will be necessary.

“Would we have liked $20 million, of course, would we have liked $15 million, absolutely, but the $10 million puts us on board with the project, which is a game-changer for the entire city,” said City Council President Tom Ryan. “They wanted a city government to be responsible for the project.”

The city’s support was also contingent on the college’s academic partner, George Fox University, agreeing to a long-term, triple-net-lease for the college’s building, which, when constructed, would be owned by the city.

The college’s location and the terms of the lease haven’t been solidified yet, said interim City Manager Nikki Messenger. ORH recently submitted a site plan review pre-application conference document to the city for an 80,000-square-foot parcel south of CHI Mercy Medical Center near the Roseburg Regional Airport.

The project’s partners are working to identify grants and loans the city could use to contribute up to $10 million, Messenger said. The lease with George Fox would need to cover all city debt costs for the contribution, city officials said.

“The city won’t be on the hook for any money,” Ryan said. “That was important to us.”

The city isn’t obligated to pay more than $10 million, even if the project’s partners don’t secure the remaining one-third in funding, he said, but the City Council would decide what to do collectively.

“We haven’t had a final vote on it, but if it ends up being the way I think it is, the city isn’t going to have any liability,” Ryan said. “It’s not going to cost taxpayers anything.”

Since 2013, the city has contributed $70,000 to the project, including two economic feasibility studies. Additionally, the city agreed in April to abate at least $400,000 in systems development charges for the construction of the college.

“It’s a major milestone to get that funding (from the legislature),” Messenger said. “It’s just not a complete package yet.”

Patterson said ORH is aggressively pursuing grants from private and public entities, including both state and federal sources.

“We’re just getting started,” he said. “Our plan, once we have all the funding opportunities that we have on the table, whatever that last remaining amount was, if any, then we would go to the city and say, ‘We need you to pick up whatever that small or stopgap amount is.’”

Messenger said the city has invited the project’s partners to speak to the City Council at its meeting on July 22.

Max Egener can be reached at megener@nrtoday.com and 541-957-4217. Or follow him on Twitter @maxegener.

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City Reporter

Max Egener is the city reporter for The News-Review. He has a master's degree from the University of Oregon, and is an avid skier and backpacker.

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