FARM II project needs close examination

Architectural drawing Blue Mountain Community College

The Blue Mountain Regional Training Center, formerly known as FARM II, just received a $13 million endorsement from the governor.

Gov. Kate Brown released her recommended budget for the 2019-2021 biennium, which included allocating $8 million from state lottery bonds toward the Blue Mountain Community College project.

Combined with the $5 million the state has already budgeted for multi-use agricultural facility, the state should cover the training center’s estimated $12.5 million cost.

Connie Green, BMCC’s interim president, said the training center’s inclusion in the budget proposal wasn’t just an achievement for the college, but a feather in the cap for the whole community.

She credited BMCC’s project partners for helping the training center get this far. The city of Pendleton, Umatilla County, and Port of Umatilla all contributed $150,000 toward the training center. The Pendleton Round-Up Association is providing the college with land and the InterMountain Education Service District also recently joined in the partnership.

As it’s currently conceived, BMCC plans to build two-story, 87,092-square-foot facility with classrooms and lab space for its veterinary program and an indoor arena that would host the BMCC rodeo team and other equine events.

Pendleton Mayor John Turner, who worked on the project when he was BMCC’s president, was excited by the development.

“It’s a huge step forward,” he said.

Turner said Brown supported the project because of its potential to boost career technical education and be an economic driver for the community. Local officials expect the training center’s indoor arena will draw equine events during the winter, typically a slow time in Pendleton’s tourism schedule.

In October, the city and Round-Up engineered a land swap that clears the way for BMCC to lease nine acres of land from the Round-Up west of the rodeo grounds.

Although the governor has recommended funding the training center in her budget, it still needs to be included in the final budget that’s approved by the Oregon Legislature before the college can access the money. Brown earmarked $67.7 million for community college projects around the state, with BMCC slated to receive the largest amount.

“It’s not ours until sine die,” Green said, referring to the end of the 2019 Legislative session.

A longtime community college administrator, Green said the training center’s prospects of staying in the final budget are dependent on the economy. A contracting economy could mean some large scale projects are left on the cutting room floor while a growing economy could spur more generous allocations from the Legislature.

Although the project now has the governor’s explicit endorsement, Green said the responsibility of bringing the training center across the finish line belongs to BMCC and its community partners.

The training center should have at least a few sympathetic ears in Salem when the session starts on Jan. 22. Turner said he’s confident Pendleton’s legislative delegation will advocate for the project. State Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, is supportive of the training center and congratulated the college and community for making the governor’s budget. But he’s also aware that the project still has some hurdles to overcome.

The old saying is “The governor proposes and the Legislature disposes,” he said.

Regardless of the outcomes once the Legislature adjourns on June 30, Green said BMCC will begin preparing plans for the training center in the near future. Green said she’d like to convene working groups within the next 30-60 days to create more detailed plans during the Legislative session, allowing the college to quickly begin architectural designs should the training center be included in the final budget.

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