Before he pushes for the legislature to fund the reconstruction of Montana State University-Northern’s Auto/Diesel Technology Center, Gov. Steve Bullock visited the Havre campus Thursday to see why he should.
Through an hour-long tour of Northern’s automotive facilities Thursday morning, a team of administrators, faculty and students did their best to convey to the governor how valuable past investments in Northern have been and how much the entire state of Montana would benefit from a further investment, like the $8 million project before the state Legislature this session.
Starting at 11 a. m. in the Farm Mechanics building, Dean of the College of Technical Sciences Greg Kegel introduced faculty and staff and explained how that building was built with private donations and allowed lessons and work on massive farm equipment that put Northern graduates in such high demand.
Over in the Applied Technology Center, Bullock watched as Northern students talked with representatives from Modern Machinery who were visiting from Missoula. John Scott, a service manager for Modern Machinery, spent a few minutes talking to the governor about how much his organization relies on Northern graduates.
Afterward, Bullock told the assembled group of people why he wants to invest in Northern.
“Knowing that you've had 100 percent placement year after year, knowing that we have 224 class and we could double it, knowing that most of you will come out of here making more than the governor, it makes a lot of sense for us to invest in higher education, ” Bullock said. “It makes dollar sense right now and for the future. ”
The tour then took him to where that money is needed, the aging Auto/Diesel Technology Center, where he saw the cramped classrooms and crowded garages that, with faculty recruitment difficulties, are holding back Northern’s class sizes.
Northern professor Wayne Boysun showed the governor on particular room which is just too small for Northern’s needs.
“We're just basically in a shed, ” Boysun said. “We're literally limiting our class size because of this room. ”
At the end of the tour, Bullock spoke about the needs he recognized in the building and the far-reaching benefits that would come from its replacement, from the immediate dispersal of funds for the reconstruction of the building to the years of larger better-trained classes of Northern graduates who would go to work all over the state and country.
The project, when proposed several years ago, was expected to cost $7.97 million. Kegel said that has probably risen just through inflation to $9 million or $10 million.
Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer made the project his fourth highest priority on the Long Range Building Plan he developed before leaving office, recommending that the Legislature contribute $3 million and asking Northern to raise the other $5 million.
The project has been raised to third highest priority, with a recommended $5 million from the state, so Northern would have to raise the remainder.
Kegel described how the ATC was supposed to be a $12 million project and twice as large, with two stories. The Legislature gave them $2 million and told Northern to get the rest themselves. Unable to raise $10 million, Northern shrank the project and is still dealing with the space shortages. Kegel doesn’t want that to happen to this project.
How much of the project’s $8 million price tag will actually be paid, though, will be up to the Legislature and their final decision on the bonding bill.