After he and his staff worked had to provide funding and assistance to get it built, Congressman Peter DeFazio visited Coos Bay to tour Umpqua Hall, the recently finished science building at Southwestern Oregon Community College.

As he walked through the three-story building, DeFazio admired the construction and especially the use of local wood on the interior.

"It's beautiful," he said.

DeFazio and his staff were able to secure $3.3 million in EDA funding to help pay for the $25 million construction project, but DeFazio and his staff dd more than just provide funding, said Elise Hammer, director of the Southwestern Oregon Community College Foundation. The congressman and his staff worked with the college for three years to get the construction planned and executed, she said.

DeFazio said seeing the finished product made all the work worthwhile.

"It's incredible," he said. "I've seen the before and after. It's night and day. This is world class. In an area where we have a huge need, especially nurses, this will make a big difference."

Umpqua Hall will be used for a variety of programs at the college. All of the science classes, with brand-new, state-of-the-art labs are on the second and third floors.

On the first floor, there are offices and a lecture hall that can hold up to 180 people. Patty Scott, the president of SWOCC, said the size of the lecture hall will allow the college to use it in many ways.

'With COVID, it's going to be awesome," she said. "A lot of folks will use the space for a variety of reasons."

Also on the bottom floor, is an area for training EMTs, including a space set up as an apartment to train future ambulance workers on the ins and outs of helping and removing people from homes.

"This is great," DeFazio said when looking at the apartment space. "I haven't seen something like this in other schools."

On the second floor, the college's nursing program will have brand new facilities that uses state-of-the-art technology to train future nurses. With the new space, the college recently doubled its classes in Coos Bay, with up to 100 nurses training at a time. An additional 12 nurses can be trained at the Brookings campus, meaning the college can train 112 nurses at one time.

Joannie Miller, who leads the nursing program, showed DeFazio around the area, which has three new simulator rooms, all with a Nurse Ann simulator. The simulator allows students to practice their skills before moving on to real patients. There also two skills labs, where students can practice a variety of things like drawing blood, taking blood pressure and much more. The idea, Miller said, is to let students practice a lot at school before moving on to local hospitals.

"We want to give them every opportunity to make every mistake here," she said.

Thw two-year program includes a lot of hands-on work in the second year, with SWOCC partnering with Bay Area Hospital to work directly with patients. Miller said the partnership pays off big time for the Curry County students.

"Our second year nursing students, the plan is to have them commute up here from Curry to have the benefit of Bay Area Hospital," Miller said. "It's very much synchronous between Curry and us. We could not do it without them, and they could not do it without us."

The science labs are also brand new with state-of-the-art equipment. One professor who will benefit is Ron Metzger, who has been teaching geology for 26 years. He said the new space is a game changer.

"It's fantastic," he said. "I've been for 24-1/2 years cobbling together left-over cabinets and chairs," Metzger said. "It's a whole different attitude. The ability to have the space is something that brings a whole sparkle."

Hammer said DeFazio deserves a lot of the credit for the building and the labs.

"What you did is put the best labs in the country in a rural community," she said. "We are so thankful."

For DeFazio, a highlight of the tour was when the college surprised him by revealing its chemistry lab is being named after him.

After seeing the facility, DeFazio said he expects enrollment to skyrocket at the community college - especially if the government can help.

"I don't think you'll have a problem getting students, especially if we make it free," DeFazio said. "It's in play. There will be something significant for students. If not that, maybe it will be working off the debt. We have to do something."


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