Saturday, January 31, 2009

January AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Each January, AIA-SWO partners with the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) to conduct a joint meeting for the benefit of our members about the state of the local economy, specifically the prospects for the construction sector in the coming year. Perhaps not surprisingly, this January’s joint meeting was remarkably well-attended, with over 200 AIA-SWO and CSI members on hand, as well members of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), and the Construction Financial Managers Association (CFMA). Everyone was at the Eugene Hilton Conference Center to hear about “Projects in the Pipeline” from a panel of speakers representing some of the major public and private sector entities that together have been responsible for much of the local construction activity in recent years.

This year’s panel included:

Philip Farrington – PeaceHealth
Jon Lauch – Eugene School District 4J
Chris Ramey, AIA – University of Oregon
David Suchart – Lane County
Denny Braud – City of Eugene
John Tamulonis – City of Springfield
David Hauser – Eugene Chamber of Commerce

A message echoed by all of the speakers was that, despite the dire straits we are navigating through this worsening recession, there is reason for optimism. Some of this stems from the fact that federal stimulus money will soon find its way here. For example, Jon Lauch of District 4J reported that $3.4 million has already been earmarked for infrastructure upgrades, such as repairs to roofs of existing schools. Chris Ramey likewise mentioned that the University of Oregon will receive $2.9 million specifically for the purpose of tackling a backlog of small deferred maintenance projects. Denny Braud told the audience that the City of Eugene has thirty public works projects totaling $25 million that are “shovel-ready,” including plans for a $4 million pedestrian/bicycle bridge crossing I-105 at Delta Ponds that will realize the City’s vision of a more comprehensive bicycle path network.

Together, the federal stimulus funds being directed to our local public agencies are relatively modest; nevertheless, this is money that will help retain or generate employment for projects that otherwise would not have moved forward.

There is also optimism rooted in the diversification of the local economy since the last deep recession during the 1980s. This diversity may help cushion the impact of the current economic downturn. Indeed, our speakers highlighted the positives, describing a number of promising developments, either on the boards or already under construction.

According to Philip Farrington, the investment that Peacehealth has made in its new Riverbend hospital will pay dividends for many years to come, as the construction of ancillary and related developments will continue. Peacehealth also remains dedicated to its Sacred Heart at University District facility, although immediate construction plans there will be deferred until 2010.

David Suchart pointed to Lane County’s proposal to build the Martin Luther King Education Center, which would be constructed next to the existing Juvenile Justice Center. He also listed the County’s projects for developing federally-qualified health centers (FQHC), and the replacement of the existing Child Advocacy Center.

David Hauser reminded everyone that the massive new State of Oregon psychiatric hospital and penitentiary projects in Junction City are in the planning stages. In addition, he mentioned the prospects for a large new Veterans Affairs medical clinic to be sited in the Eugene-Springfield metro area, as well as the growth of innovative companies such as Bulk Handling Systems and Life Technologies.

John Tamulonis cited the development of a new Hilton Garden Inn, located in the Gateway area of Springfield, as well as the extension of Lane Transit District’s Em-X bus rapid transit line to the Gateway Mall and International Way. Jerry’s Home Improvement Center in Springfield is planning a $1.7 million expansion, and Phase 2 of the Bring Recycling Center is also in the works.

You can either be a “cup half-full” or “cup half-empty” kind of person. I’m a “half-full” type myself, and I am confident that the Eugene-Springfield metro area simply has too much to offer to truly collapse economically. There will unquestionably be hardships – we’ve seen layoffs at major employers such as Country Coach already – but the potential for success long-term is too great not to be optimistic. For those of us in the architectural profession, the goal should be to seize upon the opportunities inherent in this potential and facilitate the kinds of future developments that will further enhance livability, sustainability, and the attractiveness of our community for years to come.

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All of the credit for the success of the January meeting’s program goes to the Willamette Valley Chapter, CSI. If you’re not familiar with the organization, the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) is a national professional association that provides technical information and products, continuing education, professional conferences, and product shows to enhance communication among all the building design and construction industry's disciplines. Kudos to Willamette Valley Chapter president Mark Richards and WVC program committee chairs Larry Banks, AIA, and Jon Texter for producing not only the “Projects in the Pipeline” panel discussion, but also the excellent educational seminars and products show prior to the dinner meeting.

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The February AIA-SWO chapter meeting will feature a presentation by Greg Hansen of Balzhiser & Hubbard Engineers, about the latest trends in architectural lighting. Greg has taught lighting design at Lane Community College’s Energy Management Program since 1994; he has also presented at Lightfair International, and is a frequent lecturer and instructor for the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council (NEEC), the Northwest Energy Education Institute (NEEI) and the Oregon section of the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES). Greg has a MFA in Architectural Lighting from Parsons School of Design in New York City, and is Lighting Certified (LC) by the National Council on Qualifications for the Lighting Professions. Mark your calendars: the meeting will take place on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at The Actors Cabaret in downtown Eugene; the social hour begins at 5:30.

Our February program sponsor is STS Coatings. STS Coatings manufactures a variety of construction products. These include the Roof Guardian Technologies line of roof maintenance systems for virtually every type of roof, as well as the GreatSeal polyether-based sealants that include no solvents, ensuring adhesion to most any construction surface without fear of product incompatibility. STS also manufactures the Wall Guardian single-component, liquid applied air barriers and the HeatBloc-75 spray-applied attic heat barrier. STS Coatings is represented in Oregon by Frank Saldana of BVS and Associates. Thanks to Frank and STS Coatings for being the AIA-SWO sponsor for February!

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