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College to salute new home for events.

Byline: Greg Bolt The Register-Guard

A building almost 50 years in the making will have its public debut on Friday.

The new Morse Event Center at Northwest Christian College fulfills a promise made by college trustees in 1957, a year after the school's old gym was torn down. But where the old gym was little more than "a box with four walls" that offered only occasional protection from the rain, the new building does far more.

In many ways, the 43,000-square-foot events center brings a big part of NCC back home.

Until now, almost anything NCC did that involved large groups had to be done off campus: athletics, theater, dances, concerts and even graduation had to find rented quarters. The college couldn't even offer physical education classes, much less a full slate of intramural or intercollegiate sports.

All that and more are now possible, NCC President James Womack said. The Morse Event Center will give students a place where they can be together and build up their sense of community.

"I think this will help that a lot," Womack said. "This will give them a chance to think differently about the institution."

The building's dedication takes place at 11 a.m. Friday in the multipurpose gym and performance hall. The center is located at East 11th Avenue and Alder Street, across from the college administration building.

It's the first new campus building at NCC in almost 40 years and is the centerpiece of the college's successful "Vision for Our Second Century" fund-raising campaign, which raised $13.4 million. The Morse Event Center accounts for $10 million of the total - $8 million for construction and a $2 million endowment to run the center - along with a $2.5 million addition to the college endowment for scholarships, $500,000 for technology upgrades and a $400,000 renovation of the music building.

The center is named for Frank and Linda Morse of Albany, the lead donors to the campaign. Frank Morse is the retired president of Morse Bros. Inc., a state senator and chairman of the NCC Board of Trustees. Bob and Marilyn Hutchins of Medford also were lead donors.

Womack said it's difficult to imagine just how much the Morse Center will add to the atmosphere and opportunities on campus, both for students and the community. The gym will give men's basketball a home court for the first time since 1956 and allow the college to field women's basketball and volleyball teams - and P.E. classes - for the first time ever.

"We've never been able to have anything other than mud football for an intramural sport on campus," he said. The men's basketball played at O'Hara Catholic School or gyms at other schools, so "we were a visiting team even when we were at home. We never had a home."

But athletics is just the beginning. The center was built with advanced lighting and sound systems and will have a portable stage that will let the college present intimate theater productions for a few hundred people or major concerts for almost 2,000. Carefully designed acoustics should handle both unamplified plays and raucous basketball games.

Downstairs are offices for coaches, a training room for athletes and a recreation room for students.

The large basement also features a fully equipped, 2,500-square-foot fitness center for students and faculty as well as for athletes, the first time the college has been able to offer such a service. Locker rooms and showers for general use are supplemented by separate team locker rooms that allow the fitness center to be used even when there's a basketball game going on upstairs.

"One of the things I've said from the time we started designing this building is those who will benefit the most aren't athletes, it's the students who are least inclined to physical activity," Womack said while showing off the new fitness equipment. "There are a lot of people for whom competition isn't where it's at, but they will get involved in low-key, light activities."

The building also provides office space for the student life and student activities programs, freeing up space in other buildings that will now be available for offices for new faculty.

Some of the features built into the center include a high-efficiency heating and air-conditioning system, designed by Eugene Water & Electric Board specialists, that should save the college up to $40,000 a year. Large, gabled skylights even bring daylight to interior offices.

The wood-paneled entry and lobby features a stone floor and two concession booths. A large glass-paneled front window looking out on East 11th Avenue will feature a Frederick Hart bronze statue, "Christ Rising."

Womack, who plans on retiring after this year, praised the half-dozen donors who gave almost $10 million to the campaign, but he said it wouldn't have happened if not for the 1,700 other gifts to the project. That came in spite of starting the fund drive just as the economy began to nosedive and two other prominent organizations, the Eugene Public Library and First Baptist Church, also were kicking off new campaigns.

"People stepped forward and made significant gifts who we didn't even know at the beginning of the campaign," he said. "That was really wonderful."

CAPTION(S):

Morse Event Center makes it possible for the NCC men's basketball team to have its first home court since 1956.
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Title Annotation:NCC will dedicate a building to house sports, theater and other activities; Higher Education
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 15, 2003
Words:893
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