By Tim Leeds
Montana State University-Northern is closing in on approval to start building a new technology center after more than five years of planning.
Chancellor Mike Rao has already secured top priority for the new building request by Montana State University, and the Board of Regents of Higher Education has prioritizing the long-range building requests on the agenda for its July meeting.
Once the regents assign priority to the request, Gov. Marc Racicot will decide whether or not to include on his budget, to be submitted to the legislature this November.
Delegates from the university, including Rao and his wife, Dean of the College of Technical Sciences Darryl Thackeray, Tom Reynolds and Greg Jergeson of the MSU-Northern Foundation and Al Beute, local General Electric manager, met with Racicot on June 7 to inform him of the need for and progress on the project. Rao said it was a very productive meeting, allowing them to show Racicot the importance of the project and the potential impact on economic development on the Hi-Line.
Jergeson said the governor seemed very supportive of the project. He said he talked with them for 45 minutes instead of the 15 originally scheduled for the meeting. He said Racicot is awaiting the priority placed on the project by the board of regents.
Rao said the governor made it very clear at the meeting that his decision for the budget would rely heavily on the regent's recommendation.
The current project design, compiled by Gordon Whirry Architecture out of Great Falls, would request $4.125 million from the legislature. This would be used to build a one floor structure with an industrial lab, classrooms and parking by the current farm mechanics building, across from Brockmann Center. A section of Brockmann Center would also be renovated to provide a central location for business development pro-grams and additional classrooms.
The MSU-Northern Foundation will solicit private funding for additional construction on the new ATC building. The project shows an additional $6 million to $8 million needed to complete the comprehensive design.
The university received $50,000 from the legislature in 1999 to plan the new center, and the MSU-Northern Foundation has already approved $50,000 for the fundraising campaign needed for the comprehensive design.
The technical sciences department initially identified need for additional classroom and laboratory space in 1995. Jergeson said when the initial idea to expand and renovate the Davey Pioneer Lab was presented, it did not receive much support, and that construction of a new facility was more likely to receive support.
Jergeson said Rep. Matt McCann, D-Harlem, was instrumental in receiving the initial support from the Legislature in receiving the $50,000 for planning, resulting in the current design by Gordon Whirry Architecture.
The last free standing building built through state funding was the Vande Bogart Library, which the Legislature authorized in 1979. The Davey Pioneer Lab, also built in 1979, and the Farm Mechanic Building, built in 1983, were both built entirely with private funds.
Jergeson said MSU-Northern has been so successful in the past at raising private funds for building on campus that the institution's efforts have been used as models for building fundraisers at Montana State University-Bozeman and at the University of Montana-Missoula.
Editor's note This is the second part of a three-part series looking at MSU-Northern's new tech center. The third part will be in Tuesday's papers. The first part was in Friday's Daily News.