By Alan Sorensen
Hill County's other college is getting a new campus.
The centerpiece of the new Stone Child College, its Cultural Center, is well on its way to completion, and ground has already been broken for the school's new Community Library. The activity is taking place at Bonneau Village, about four miles from the site of the original campus at Rocky Boy Agency.
College President Steve Galbavy said he's pleased with the progress at the site, but added that it will be more than a year before the new campus is ready for occupancy. The campus is being built one building at a time, and financing, he said, is the reason.
Stone Child College, a two-year school with about 300 students, is currently housed in three buildings. Once the Cultural Center, the library and the academic building are completed, the new campus will open. The college also hopes to build student housing, a multipurpose building and administration space if money becomes available.
"The American Indian College Fund started a long time back funding cultural centers for all tribal colleges," Galbavy said. "It's supposed to be for the shell, roof, decking, windows. The finish work is the responsibility of the institution."
Galbavy said getting the cultural center off the ground has been "a little bit of a nightmare." While the work is contracted out locally to a regional contractor, in this case Rocky Mountain Log Homes of Hamilton, much of the support from the American Indian College Fund comes through donated materials. That has caused a variety of logistical problems for the project. The fund's contribution also includes about $100,000 for any associated construction costs, which tend to skyrocket.
"I think we're going to get most of it done, yet that additional sum has to come from somewhere," Galbavy said. "In some ways we're fortunate because we do have some alternative funding," including the college's reserve account.
The tribal college of the Chippewa Cree Tribe on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation in the Bear Paw Mountains of north-central Montana was founded in 1984 by Peggy Nagel. The school's first classes were held in homes and churches on the reservation. When the new high school was erected, the college moved into the old school at the heart of the agency.
Galbavy, the school's third president, said the condition of SCC's main building has deteriorated to the point that it would cost more to repair it than to build the new physical plant. Leaks in the roof have threatened the school's records and put the staff's health in jeopardy, he said. Galbavy was forced to move his office and the records to the wing under the gym, but that space is insufficient for their needs.
"We can't hold it together anymore," Galbavy said, "and the cost to fix it is just enormous."
The campus' two newer buildings, Kennewash Hall and Sitting Old Woman Hall, are in good shape and still usable. It probably will fall to the Chippewa Cree Business Committee to find future use for them.
SCC is a member of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, which consists of about 30 tribal colleges, mostly in the United States. SCC is one of seven in Montana, one on each of the state's reservations.
Most of the other schools, including those at Fort Belknap, Browning and the Flathead Reservation, already occupy new buildings.
Galbavy points out that the Chippewa Cree is a poor tribe with few financial resources.
When Galbavy took over at SCC, the school had a huge deficit, part of it owing to the government shutdown early in the Clinton administration. By tightening the budget, Galbavy was able to pay off the debts and even build a modest reserve over the past couple of years.
"We have continued growth in our reserve and we can dedicate some of that," he said. "It's not a great sum, but at least we're not running in the red anymore."
Work is progressing on the two-story cultural center and construction of the Community Library should begin sometime later this summer.
"We're in the negotiation phase with the contractor," Galbavy said. "That should get going pretty soon; we already moved some dirt.
"We are positioning ourselves for the third building in Phase One, the academic building."
Principle funding for that building is expected to come from the American Indian College Fund in the form of grant from the Lilly Foundation.
"And other grant funds are starting to expose themselves," Galbavy said. Among those agencies that may be able to provide financial support to the school construction are the U.S. Department of Education, Department of Defense, National Science Foundation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"With all that, we should be able to complete Phase One," Galbavy said.
The campus had been expected to be completed for occupancy in three phases, each taking about a year. Under the new time line, with a less-ambitious plan for the campus, it could be open by the fall of 2002.
"We'll put a second floor on the community library, that will be an additional 4,500 square feet," Galbavy said. "And maybe we'll put a second floor on the academic building, too. We could eliminate the need for an administration building."
Other structures Galbavy has on his wish list are a student union building and a multipurpose building.
"I really do want some kind of multipurpose building, an amphitheater for presentations, fine arts, drama, dance, not really a gym," he said. "That's really wishful thinking. There can be an enormous cost associated with that.
"We'll probably have everything earmarked for completion next summer."
The academic building still has to go through the design and negotiation stages with any other buildings to follow. "They're contracted one building at a time," Galbavy said.
There also is a need for student housing, something the campus has never had. That, Galbavy said, should be the responsibility of HUD and the Tribal Housing Authority.
The bottom line, Galbavy said, is that tribal colleges are more than just institutions of higher education. They are integral parts of their reservations.
"Tribal colleges are really valuable to the community and more and more people are realizing what it's doing to their lives and their futures," he said. "We're having a lot of luck with our students transferring to four-year programs. And we've been able to provide some assistance for students going on for advanced degrees."