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LCC suspends operations for Center of Meeting and Learning

The Center, a hub for students during a normal school year, also doubled as a venue for community events.

Posted: Jul 17, 2020 4:11 PM
Updated: Jul 17, 2020 4:39 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- This week, Lane Community College voted 6-1 in favor of suspending operations at the Center of Meeting & Learning on campus.

The Center is home to several programs, such as hospitality and culinary, on campus but said programs will not be affected by the closure. Instead, the building itself will be closed while the 10 employees still working will be redistributed to other areas of the college. 

LCC Board Chair Lisa Fragala cited complications due to the COVID-19 pandemic as a major factor in the decision. 

"I don't know what the timeline would because like you said, we all thought we'd be free and clear this summer and maybe having to think about this in the fall and here we are in the middle of another surge," Fragala said. "I think the decision to suspend CML operations came about because of the severe impacts of the pandemic."

The Center was a conference and events venue for not just LCC but various local groups as well, which helped offset the operating costs of the building. With Oregon Health Authority mandates that put a cap on event attendance, it made hosting large events difficult, if not unfeasible. 

"They ranged from local nonprofits to lots of local groups or businesses so it's been well utilized," Fragala said of the types of groups that would host functions at the CML. 

"The program is not going to be able to host anything for a year or more. I don't know. Like I said the virus sets the timeline," Fragala said.

At the time, the Center had been improving financially but was still in the red in terms of year-over-year revenue. But it did provide a service to the community that went beyond simple profit margins. 

"I think you'll see that they were actually getting better," said Fragala. "Sometimes we can't always look at education from the number crunching perspective, we have to look at it in value added to the community... We'll use the time we have to review operations and we're thinking of it as a reset."

In the same meeting, the Board approved a reopening plan in the fall, but the recent surge of cases in Oregon and nationwide has created uncertainty in that plan as well. 

"I think that the college is under tremendous pressure in multiple ways and I think this is an example of one," Fragala said.

But Fragala believes that in the aftermath of the pandemic, much like other crises the country has faced in the last decade, schools like LCC will play in an important role in revitalizing portions of the local economy and providing educational opportunities for those hoping to reenter the workforce.

"We don't have good information on the role of community colleges after a pandemic, but we do have excellent information of the role of community colleges following an economic crisis and we know they become more critical than ever," Fragala said.

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