The beeping of a dump truck’s reversing signal echos off the broad side of the square Casanova Center. A backhoe plows a mound of earth into a flat, drivable surface. Hoffman Construction portable offices line the gate enclosing the work area.
The Casanova Center expansion is under way, and yet no University administrators or athletics officials know much about the project. Upon a request from the Emerald, however, the athletic department’s media services denied a walkthrough and interview for a story on the progress of the project.
Athletic media services said it does not have much of an opportunity to give interviews during the project due to it being headed by an outside group, as the John E. Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes’ project was three years ago.
“The University leases the land, and when they’ve completed it, they give it back,” said Dave Williford, executive assistant athletic director for media services. “Our ability to grant interviews is limited at this point.”
Both Williford and Vice President for Finance and Administration Jamie Moffitt said they don’t know the cost of the project. According to the permit applications filed with the City of Eugene, the total value of the project came to $63.3 million. The site work alone — rerouting site utilities, demolition of portions of the Casanova Center, pathways and the relocating of the cooling tower — cost $1.75 million. With the expansion planned for adding an extra 130,000 square feet, the cost per square foot is $484.
The outside group involved in the project is Phit LLC, a company owned by Phil Knight that he uses for building development. The University leases the land to Phit, which then facilitates the development of the building, including choosing an architecture firm and construction contractor. When the project is completed, they give the land back to the University as a gift.
“The donor’s preference was to enter into a lease agreement to construct the building,” Moffitt said. “The University asked for and received approval from the State Board to construct the facility in this manner.”
Some on campus are questioning the lack of transparency in this project, especially with an ongoing NCAA investigation and the ASUO pressuring athletics to improve transparency.
“It is the responsibility of the athletic department and the (University) to only accept donations with conditions attached if they are in the best interest of the students,” ASUO President Ben Eckstein said. “We have seen consistently that the interests of students are not a factor in the consideration of whether to accept donations to the athletic department.”
According to Jay Kenton, Oregon University System vice chancellor for finance and administration, there are no other projects in the OUS that use a process like this. Although other state universities boast wealthy alumni, the University is the only school in the state to have received entire buildings completely free, donated by one donor.
“These projects are unique to Oregon,” OUS spokesperson Di Saunders said.
The only sneak peak into this multimillion dollar project has come from Andy McNamara, an assistant director for athletic media services. McNamara has kept track of the daily progress through a quick video blog he posts to Twitter. Until the building actually materializes, this and the digital rendering courtesy of ZGF Architects are the only previews we have into this new building.