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Portland Business Journal: PSU’s big plan to pump up its business school
Author: Matthew Kish, Portland Business Journal
Posted: May 10, 2013

Read the original story here in the Portland Business Journal.

Scott Dawson remembers walking into the University of Oregon’s new business school in 2006.

The sparkling Lillis Business Complex features a gorgeous light-filled atrium and abundant meeting space for students and faculty. It’s the antithesis of the cramped, tomb-like Portland State School of Business Administration.

Dawson, dean of the Portland State business school, remembers thinking: “If students are on the bubble, we’re screwed.”

That moment kicked off a seven-year effort that culminated this week when Portland State announced an $8 million anonymous gift to kick-start a $60 million renovation and addition to the university’s business school. The project will result in a spacious and aesthetically-pleasing building that will put Portland State’s facilities on par with competitors like the University of Oregon and University of Washington.

Most importantly, Dawson said it will improve the quality of the school’s education by adding meeting space and making the building inviting by adding more natural light.

Business students are spread out in classrooms around campus, with roughly 50 percent of classes meeting in space outside the business school.

The amount of space in the business school will increase from 52,000 square feet to 147,000 square feet, enabling all business classes to meet under one roof, increasing face-time and collaboration between students and faculty.

“If a student were considering say the University of Washington or here, and they were on the bubble, they’re not going to come here,” Dawson said. “(The University of Washington) has got a beautiful new building. And the reality is the quality of a building does affect the quality of the learning experience.”

Portland State President Wim Wiewel said the building will make a statement.

“It sends a message to the world at large, but very importantly to our students and faculty and staff, that we take ourselves seriously, that we feel our students are worthy of good, aesthetically-pleasing spaces,” he said. “They don’t have to make do with the leftovers. Portland State has always had this ‘We’ll just make do’ attitude. There is a good grittiness about that, but at a certain point you gotta say, ‘We’re a 29,000-student, $500 million-a-year organization.’ You can’t keep living in crummy space.”

A tale of four benches

Dawson visited the renowned University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, one of the world’s leading business schools, while scouting ideas for the project. His biggest takeaway: meeting space.

Wharton has 90 study rooms for students. The spaces allow students to meet in small groups outside of class, a critical part of a business education.

Portland State’s business school, by contrast, only has two meeting rooms. Numerous groups often meet at the same time, making conversations hushed and unproductive. The only other public meeting space: four wooden benches inside the front doors of the building.

The renovation will add 25 new study rooms.

Adding to the business school’s challenges, it has little natural light. Faculty offices are in dimly-lit corridors. Many faculty members work from home when not teaching.

“If you walk through some of the hallways, you’ll see why a lot of faculty don’t come in,” Dawson said. “It feels like a morgue on some of the floors.”

The renovation includes more inviting offices for faculty, hopefully luring faculty to campus for longer stretches. Classrooms will get renovated and become more spacious.

“What we thought were great classrooms in 1987, those are not great classrooms anymore,” Dawson said.

New ground-floor retail, possibly a brewpub and a small grocery store, will be added to the building’s new space, another effort to build the business school community by keeping students on campus longer.

No more recruiting in the faculty lounge

The lack of meeting space for students is a problem for the school’s corporate partners.

“When Tektronix comes to recruit we do it in the faculty staff lounge,” Dawson said. “And there’s no place for them in the building to do one-on-one recruiting.”

Not surprisingly, expanding the size of the business school has deep support in the business community.

In addition to the $8 million anonymous gift, Columbia Sportswear Co. CEO Tim Boyle and his wife gave $1 million to the project.

“Selfishly speaking, we want to have lots of talented people available to work at our company,” Boyle said. “We think that Portland State is a place that many of our employees, if they didn’t graduate from Portland State, often take advanced degrees there. So, selfishly speaking, it’s going to be very good for our employee base.”

Portland State continues to have close ties with the private sector, a connection that traces back to the creation of the Food Industry Leadership Center nearly 20 years ago at the request of Fred Meyer.

Recent additions include a certificate program for students in the athletic and outdoor industries and a certificate program in the business of craft brewing.

The expanded business school will deepen those ties to the business community.

PSU: Poised to grow

Description: The School of Business Administration will grow from 52,000 square feet to 147,000 square feet.

Details: The project includes 42,000 square feet of new space and renovations to the business school’s 53,000 square feet of existing space. The Graduate School of Education will also vacate space in the School of Administration’s building, freeing up an additional 53,000 square feet.

Cost: $60 million.

Budget: $40 million in state funding, $20 million in private gifts.

Groundbreaking: January 2015.

Completion: Fall 2016.

Matthew Kish covers banking, finance, footwear/apparel and higher education.