By Tim Leeds
Montana State University-Northern is one big step closer to building a top-of-the-line technology center on its campus.
The Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce awarded a $1 million grant to Northern for the Applied Technology Center the university plans to build.
Greg Kegel, dean of the College of Technical Sciences, said the center will be a major addition if final funding is found.
"It's going to be huge," he said. "It'll help everything."
The 2001 Legislature appropriated $2 million for the center, contingent on Northern raising $2 million more. The $1 million can be used for half of that match.
Northern also is lobbying Congress for a $750,000 appropriation to use for the electronic infrastructure and Internet wiring for the building, and is working with private businesses to try to collect other funds.
"Of course, we will take any offer of help from the public we can get," said Greg Jergeson, director of grants and sponsored activities at Northern.
Kegel said the university is already working hard to get contributions from the private sector.
"We're waiting for all those to fall into place," he said.
Chancellor Alex Capdeville said Northern is contacting many of its business partners for the College of Technical Sciences, like General Electric and Caterpillar, about providing some funding for the center.
The College of Technical Sciences has connections with many major manufacturers. The businesses work with the faculty in the programs, have representatives on the programs' advisory boards, provide internships for students and hire many Northern graduates
"We feel optimistic, very optimistic, about the other million," Capdeville said.
He said Montana's congressional delegation is supporting the $750,000 appropriation request, which probably will be presented to both the Department of Education and the Department of Transportation. The congressional delegation was also very supportive of the EDA grant, he said.
Bear Paw Development Corp. wrote the grant application for the EDA money for the university.
Jergeson said the earliest Northern could get the congressional appropriation, if it's approved, would be October. If enough funds to get the state appropriation have been raised by then, he said, construction of the building could begin by spring of 2003.
The target date for the building to be open is 2004, the 75th anniversary of the university.
"It would be a tremendous way to launch our next 75," Jergeson said.
The center would serve as a hub for the different programs in Northern's College of Technical Sciences, including the business program, automotive and diesel.
Kegel said many programs will work together in the center. There will be sections for work in areas like automotive and diesel mechanics, but also work in business and computers.
The business program will teach classes like technical management and product development, Kegel said, and the computer information system program will provide programs in areas like data collection.
The center is designed with a base project estimated at $4.13 million in the 2000 concept designs. Jergeson said additional wings could be added later as money is found for the project.
Major industrial sources could be tapped to build new wings of the building.
Jergeson said many of the facilities in the technical programs will remain open after the technology center is built, although a few smaller labs will probably be closed. The center will update many of the facilities that were built in a previous era, often for different technology than is used today.
"The applied technology center is going to put us up to date and put us on the leading edge," Jergeson said.
Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development, said the economic development components of the center were the focus for writing the grant application. Parts of the center focus on small business incubation, the work of the Montana Cooperative Development Center, and research and development projects.