CORVALLIS - Oregon State University has long had a reputation as having one of the best forestry programs in the nation, and the research productivity and achievements of its faculty are second to none.

But when officials of the College of Forestry would invite dignitaries to campus, they would often steer them toward McDonald Forest, the university's nearby research forest.

Showing visitors the 43-year-old Forest Research Lab had gotten to be an embarrassment.

No longer. On Thursday, May 27, OSU will formally dedicate Richardson Hall, a 97,000-square-foot research facility that not only will double the college's lab space, but will open new opportunities in research on Pacific Northwest forestry.

"It was becoming clear that we could no longer meet our obligation to provide Oregonians with the best knowledge about our forests and forest products in the facilities we had been occupying," said George Brown, dean of the OSU College of Forestry. "As the population continues to rise, it adds more pressure on our already-stressed natural resources. So a key is going to be conducting research that is focused on sustainability and increasing the productivity of our forest land base."

The new Richardson Hall will do just that. Featuring modern labs, classrooms and greenhouses, the facility will enable OSU to conduct leading research in many important areas, Brown said. Research areas include: forest productivity and ecology, the impact of climate change, sustainable forestry, forest health, improving manufacturing efficiency, extending the lifespan of wood products, and developing new products.

Among its new features, Richardson Hall boasts a quarantine facility for insect pests - a growing problem in Oregon forests. It also has a rooftop greenhouse for transgenic plants; a larger, more secure hazardous material preparation and storage lab for wood preservation studies; and a new "reaction floor" for testing the strength of laminated beams and entire floor or roof assemblies.

Vastly enhanced computing power will enable faculty to conduct large-scale projects requiring heavy number-crunching capabilities. And a new, centralized GIS (Geographic Information Systems) lab will allow users to process satellite images and other detailed, multi-layer projections.

Perhaps the biggest gain, some faculty feel, is the chance to at last rub elbows with colleagues within the college. The forestry research faculty has been spread over several buildings.

"It's great to be able to walk down the hall to a colleague in a different discipline and say, 'I have this great idea, what do you think,'" said Steve Strauss, a professor of forest science. "And your colleague can say, 'well so-and-so tried that two years ago and it didn't work' or 'he did it this way and got some interesting results.'

"A lot of science happens that way."

Richardson Hall is named after the late Kaye Richardson of Falls City, Ore., who invested her life in a family tree farm and bequeathed the 1,400 acres of second-growth timber land to Oregon State. It eventually sold for $23.7 million - the largest gift in the history of the university.

Part of the income from that gift has helped finance Richardson Hall. Additional funding was provided by federal support and gifts from corporations, foundations and individuals.

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George Brown, 541-737-1585