SALEM — Since 2004, Phil LaVine, instructor in Chemeketa Community College’s AgriBusiness Management Program, has taught out of modular classrooms with limited capacity.

Come next fall, providing COVID restrictions are lifted, LaVine and other CCC agricultural sciences instructors will be working out of a state-of-the-art complex that could more than double his classroom sizes.

The 20,000-square-foot signature building of the Chemeketa Agriculture Complex is expected to be open for business next month. Already, students are working in the outdoor labs adjacent to the building, which serves as a feature draw of the 8-acre complex.

And LaVine couldn’t be happier.

“This is a boon for us in terms of being able to get 60 farms (150 people) in the same classroom together” for his agribusiness management program, he said.

LaVine added that he regularly has been forced to turn away farms that wanted to participate in the program.

“We’ve never been able to overcome the small classroom sizes,” he said. “We were limited to around 15 to 20 new farms a year and we had upwards of 40 to 60 that wanted to participate.”

Joleen Schilling, program chair of the college’s horticulture program, said moving from her old classrooms into the new building will be like entering the 21st century.

“This is an amazing opportunity,” Schilling said. “It is going to dramatically change what we can offer students and what we can offer industry.

“I think it is really going to attract more students to our program,” she said. “It is creating so many different teaching opportunities, from the outside classrooms to the inside classrooms. It is creating opportunities for us to apply for grants that we probably wouldn’t have been able to apply for previously, just because we have so many more resources available to us.”

The complex, four years in the making, dating back to when the Oregon Legislature allocated funding for the project, is expected to serve as a hub for students, industry professionals and the community, according to Holly Nelson, Chemeketa’s executive dean of Regional Education and Academic Development.

“From high school students and college partners to small family-owned farms and large grass seed companies, this will be the place for one of the Willamette Valley’s largest industries to come together in one learning space,” Nelson said in a press release.

In addition to state investments, grants and Chemeketa Community College funds were used to support the project.

The complex will include several outdoor laboratory areas, including an orchard, a half-acre that will be put into vegetable production, a woody ornamental lab that will be separated from the vegetable lab by a hedgerow, three hoop houses, an arboretum, a low-water xeric garden and a large bioswale that will be part of the college’s classroom experience, and a greenhouse yet to be constructed that will include 3,000 square feet of growing area.

Construction of the greenhouse, which was made possible by a $200,000 donation from Northwest Farm Credit Services, is expected to begin in June.

Plants that dot the complex’s landscape “were very strategically selected,” Schilling said, “so that they can be utilized in plant identification courses.”

As for the 20,000-square-foot signature building, it includes three community classrooms, a science lab classroom, a lab preparation room, two conference rooms, a student resource room, faculty offices and a work area.

The work area, or open study area, comes with two garage doors that fold up to create an open-air environment on sunny days.

The complex, on the northeast corner of the Salem campus at the intersection of 45th Street and Fire Protection Way, will be open for use in May, according to LaVine, but due to COVID restrictions, won’t be used for classes until the fall at the earliest.

“We now have a lot of potential for growth,” LaVine said, “and I’m looking forward to it.”

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