SALEM — Chemeketa Community College broke ground June 11 for its new $12 million agriculture complex.

The college serves Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties, home to diverse specialty crops such as grass seed, nursery plants, wine grapes and hazelnuts. The total value of farm products sold across all three counties was more than $1.15 billion in 2017, according to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture.

The Oregon Legislature approved matching funds during the 2017 session to build a new center for agriculture programs at Chemeketa. That includes horticulture and agribusiness management, but not wine studies, which has its own campus and vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills wine growing area west of Salem.

Jessica Sandrock, director of agricultural sciences and wine studies at Chemeketa, said the project is a priority for the college to support current programs and plan for growth.

“Agriculture has always been a priority,” Sandrock said. “In terms of facilities, it was really time for our programs to get improved.”

Design work on the agriculture complex is nearly complete, though details are still being fine-tuned to bring the work under budget. At a community forum just before the groundbreaking, engineers with FFA Architecture and Interiors provided an update of the latest costs and layout.

Edward Running, project manager with the Portland-based firm, said construction costs have essentially doubled since planning began. Even after cutbacks, the complex remains about 15% over budget.

“That’s sort of the head-scratcher right now,” Running said.

In addition to a 15,000-square-foot classroom and office building, the facility’s design calls for a new greenhouse, hoop houses, outdoor pavilion and amphitheater, demonstration gardens and fields to grow organic crops and woody ornamental plants.

Running mentioned the possibility of partnering with local farm businesses and industry groups to sponsor elements of the complex. Sandrock said the school has met with leaders of the Oregon Association of Nurseries and plans to follow up with the organization.

Val Tancredi, who works for Clearwater Irrigation Supply in Woodburn, Ore., is a member of the Chemeketa Horticulture Program’s advisory council. He agreed the school needs to market the agriculture complex to industry as an investment in their workforce.

“We need better outreach,” Tancredi said. “These people are educators. But you have to go out and sell.”

Both faculty and business leaders expressed optimism about what the new complex will ultimately offer.

Joleen Schilling, horticulture instructor and program chairwoman at Chemeketa, said the new space and facilities will give students a better learning experience and prepare them for all types of jobs.

“It will have a great impact on our students,” Schilling said. “The quality of student going into the workforce is going to be just that much greater.”

Since 2002, the horticulture program has served more than 12,000 students. The program offers both an associate degree, and beginning next fall students will also be able to earn an associate transfer degree to Oregon State University.

Phil La Vine, an instructor in the agribusiness management program, said the complex is “truly appreciated and should help us in our delivery of business professional development, workforce training, succession planning and farm management training.”

Over the past 50 years, the program has worked with more than 1,200 farm businesses in the Willamette Valley.

Andrew Burleigh, general manager of West Coast Companies in Salem, said he is “definitely open to support” of the agriculture complex. West Coast Companies specializes in producing automated robotic systems for agricultural industries such as grass seed and hazelnut processing facilities.

“As technological innovations come about, you have better (employee) retention,” Burleigh said. “Here, we may be able to see more innovation that helps small businesses.”

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