By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A new technology center being built at Montana State University-Northern will benefit the university, its students, Havre and the state of Montana, officials say.
"It's an opportunity to ratchet up our technology," Northern Chancellor Alex Capdeville said. "It just moves us into a whole new level."
The Applied Technology Center, which the university began planning in the mid-1990s, will include laboratories and research facilities with modern high-technology equipment.
"We wanted a multidisciplinary tech center, and that's exactly what it is," said Greg Kegel, dean of Northern's College of Technical Science. "It is not another shop."
Kegel said industry has ever-increasing need to resolve problems in the rapidly changing fields of technology. The ATC will allow Northern to better prepare its graduates, already in high demand, to meet those needs, he said.
The building, being constructed by Clausen and Sons of Havre, will be between Brockmann Center and the Farm Mechanics Building on the south side of Northern's campus. The building will split College Road, creating two cul-de-sacs.
Hi-Line Drilling started digging the well for the building Thursday, and Clausen and Sons is installing fencing to block off the construction area and bringing materials to the site today.
Kegel said some of the existing labs on campus may eventually be torn down or converted to storage space.
People outside of Northern are watching the construction with anticipation.
Howard Haines of the state Department of Environmental Quality said the labs might allow engine emissions testing that the state now has to go far afield to find.
"Basically, you don't have anybody doing this in the Northern Great Plains," Haines said.
DEQ has had to use facilities in Denver, San Antonio and Los Angeles for emissions testing on biodiesel engines and snowmobiles, he said, adding that the department also would like do tests related to future regulations that will apply to agriculture.
"We've had to go to out-of-state entities to do that," Haines said. "If we can help develop that here that would be good. We have some long-term things we would like to do with emissions to keep our big skies blue."
Ron Harmon, owner of Big Equipment Co. in Havre, said he sees the ATC benefiting the Hi-Line in many ways, including keeping people trained in using modern agricultural equipment.
"All of the equipment these days is getting higher tech, with computer-assisted motors and transmissions," he said. "There's no doubt that to follow that we need this."
He said the center can make training in modern technology available through workshops and seminars to nonstudents. That is a continuation of what Northern has done through the years, he added.
"This is another giant step forward in being supportive and trying to keep our young people in agriculture and on the Hi-Line," Harmon said.
Montana Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns said the ATC should help attract students and increase businesses' desire to hire them. Giving students the opportunity to do hands-on research provides skills that are exactly what modern industry is looking for, she said.
"It cannot help but improve attracting students and training them," she said.
Kegel said the original idea in the 1990s was to upgrade existing labs on the campus, but when the faculty looked into the matter, it decided that building a new lab was the answer. The ATC is being built in a central location to help tie all departments in the college together, which was one of the original desires for the building.
The first plans for the center have been scaled back.
"The building started as a $12 million dream," he said. "The Legislature cut us back to $5 million."
The planning began in 1999, when state Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, now a public service commissioner, pushed a $50,000 funding request through the Legislature. That money was used for planning and design, done by Gordon Whirry Architecture of Great Falls.
Jergeson, who attended the ground-breaking ceremony for the ATC on May 21, noted that the last ground-breaking for a state-funded building on campus was in 1979. He attended that one as well.
Northern requested $4.125 million from the Legislature to build a central structure, and planned to seek $8 million from other sources to add on to the basic facility.
The 2001 Legislature slashed that request, authorizing a $2 million appropriation contingent on Northern finding $2 million more from other sources to build the ATC.
Kegel said the generosity of businesses and individuals, and the work of the MSU-Northern Foundation and groups like Bear Paw Development Corp., came through in the time of need.
The federal Economic Development Administration gave the university $1 million for the project. Kegel said the award was given because of the benefits the ATC will have on the economy.
Tom Reynolds, executive director of the MSU-Northern Foundation, said almost 400 individuals joined businesses in donating the other $1 million. The donations came from local people and businesses, and others coast to coast, he said.
"(A total of ) $750,000 was from individuals," he added.
Kegel said it was gratifying to see the response, especially from local businesses and people.
"I was very, very shocked and impressed that those people would step up," he said.
The university is still seeking contributions to add to the equipment the ATC will house, and the search looks promising, Kegel said.
"I'm pretty optimistic, to tell the truth," he said.
The original $12 million design included many classrooms and office space as well as laboratories and research facilities. Kegel said it has "morphed itself" into a smaller facility that maintains the space for labs and research.
"We didn't compromise any of that. The building got smaller and that's about all," he said.
It will have an large lobby that will access the various sections of the building; a 100-seat auditorium with a large video and sound system, and a lab with enough space to drive in a tractor-trailer with an adjacent spot where a 1,000-horsepower diesel engine can be run, monitored and tested 24 hours a day.
Also included will be a lab for advanced automotive electronics, a space to develop prototype equipment, a research and development facility, and a classroom for work in advanced hydraulics.