The announcement of the finalists for chancellor wasn’t the only dicussion of Montana State University-Northern’s future happening last week.
The university hosted a long-range planning meeting last Monday, with legislators, community leaders and administrative officials from both Northern and MSU’s Bozeman campus.
Most of the meeting was focused on the next legislative session in the spring of 2013 and what it could mean for Northern and the projects it has had difficulty with for the past few years.
Greg Kegel, dean of Northern’s College of Technical Sciences, recalled discussing the renovation of the automotive center that has been in the works for a while and most recently failed to receive funding in last spring’s bonding bill, which was rejected by the Legislature.
“The group was especially interested that we have a proposal together for a new automotive center, ” Kegel said. “We took a tour of the existing structure, and they also were interested in what a new building could mean for the campus. ”
The building was bundled with many others from across the state in a $100 million bonding bill that was voted down by fiscally conservative legislators who disagreed with some of the projects proposed, the “pork barrel” spending, as Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, called it.
“A lot of legislators weren’t comfortable voting for a $100 million bonding package, ” Warburton said after the meeting. “I feel optimistic about getting the projects that really need to be done handled next session.
“We should have good support for getting Northern’s automotive building next time because, based on conversations I have had with legislators during the session, they could look objectively at the facts and see a real need for that building. ”
Kegel was frustrated that the automotive building got caught in the crossfire in Helena this spring.
“That bonding bill got politicized so bad, ” Kegel said. “The bill could have been passed and funded and built a lot of access for the state of Montana, but it died. There were a lot of good projects that could have helped the state. ”
He is more optimistic heading into the next session, not only because of the support of legislators expressed at the meeting, but also support from Bozeman and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education.
According to Kegel, Northern’s automotive center is the third highest priority building project in the entire Montana University System.
“It’s not guaranteed, but it’s a high likelihood, ” Kegel said. “From what I saw, I’d say we’ve got a good chance. ”