“We have no plans to teach undergraduate courses out here anytime soon. We may be doing graduate courses in the future but even that is a little bit further down the road,” Miller said.
Miller and other Ohio University officials presented their proposal to the school’s board of trustees for the first time last week. A market analysis is underway right now to gauge how big of a demand there is for what OU has planned.
The new conference center would allow for around 350 people to meet in one large space or in separate rooms with accordion-style dividers, according to a preliminary blueprint. Smaller meeting rooms, classrooms and updated restrooms require workers to knock down several walls in the facility. Miller said he didn’t have a cost estimate for the project yet.
OU would likely offer classes in the fields of electrical engineering, avionics, operations management and mechanical engineering, among other things, Miller said. The university’s investment in the property will hopefully result in more event events and educational opportunities in the area, said Sean Creighton, president of the Southwester Ohio Council for Higher Education.
“OU’s venture into developing academic programs in niche areas will strengthen the professional development offerings available in the region,” Creighton said.
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The inspiration behind OU’s proposal came from the university’s Dublin location, which opened in 2014, Miller said. OU’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine in Dublin was the university’s first branch campus established since 1957 and was made possible by a $105-million gift from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundations, according to OU.
The Russ Research Center location was also made possible by a gift to OU. The research center property— part of a $124 million gift — was given to the university by Fritz Russ and his wife Dolores Russ upon their deaths in 2008.
The couple were longtime benefactors of engineering education at Wright State University and Cedarville University. In 1994, OU renamed its engineering school for them.
The number of tenants in the nine research center buildings have declined in recent years, leaving OU leaders to ponder what other ways they could use some of the empty space for, Miller said. The proposed conference center and classroom space would be located in a building most recently occupied by a software company called The Ross Group.
“We were kind of scratching our chins and looking at our space,” Miller joked.
Since being given the 29-acre property, OU bought an adjacent 29 acres so the university has room to grow, Miller said. That area remains heavily wooded and will until more facilities are needed.
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“We think it’s a good sign that they acquired additional property and that they’ve reached out to other local institutions,” said Edwin Amrhein, planning and zoning administrator for Beavercreek Twp. “We’re excited about the university’s plans to develop the center into a comprehensive and many-faceted locale.”
Since the university’s plans came to light through the Dayton Daily News’ reporting in February, Miller has been adamant that OU is not trying to compete with other area schools such as Wright State or the University of Dayton. Instead, Miller said OU has reached out to area colleges and wants to form partnerships with them.
What he is focused on is making sure the property is beneficial for OU and the area and finding uses that would continue honoring the the Russ’s legacy.
“They were tremendous benefactors,” Miller said. “I feel the weight of their presence in the work that we do here.”