MSU-N automotive facility among cuts made by governor
Hearing that funds for the new automotive technology center were cut from the state budget was a difficult pill to swallow, the dean of Montana Stuate University- Northern's College of Technical Sciences said this morning. "This isn't good news," Greg Kegel said. "This is heartwrenching," he said, adding that Northern will continue to rally support for the idea and proceed with work, using what funds still will be available. Gov. Brian Schweitzer announced Wednesday $56 million in cuts he plans to make in the state budget by canceling planned building projects. It was the latest move he has announced in an attempt to balance the budget without raising taxes. The projected state budget surplus for mid-2011 is estimated at less than $17 million. Schweitzer also has asked state agency directors to cut their budgets by up to 5 percent. The projects cut Wednesday, along with Northern's automotive center, include expanded food services at the state prison, a public assistance building in Wolf Point, planning for some statewide building projects and repairs at the state Capitol, and a youth transition center planned for construction in Great Falls. Schweitzer said Wednesday he is continuing to look at ideas for ways to save money, including implementing a four-day work week at some government agencies. Kegel said that, from the information he has so far, it appears Northern still will have funds to complete about 50 percent of the design phase of the center, which it has been working on for more than a year. That should give enough information on site plans and construction estimates to take to the 2011 Legislature, Kegel said. He said continuing with the project is extremely important. Northern has been working with an engineering firm, which found that the existing building didn't even meet codes at the time it was built. Its construction and facilities are completely inadequate, Kegel said. "We grew out of this building 25 years ago," he said, adding that with the direction Northern is going, especially with its four-year technical programs, better facilities must be built. Northern has "fantastic" support for the center's construction, including from the Department of Labor and the state Office of Public Instruction, as well as industry partners, he said. Kegel said some 20 representatives of firms sent letters of support or representatives to a meeting at Northern last fall to discuss the construction of a new center. Northern's programs are successful, well-known and very popular, which helped lead to the school's selection to host the Northwest Diesel Instructors Conference this year. That conference will bring educators from Montana, California, Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Alaska to the university for training sessions and group meetings. Kegel said that if instructors — and their students — come to Northern, the university has to have facilities to justify their interest. "Our facilities have to be on par, or better, than where those students come from," he said. He said he and Northern will continue the push, even with the cuts made by Schweitzer. "We don't quit easy up here. We have to fight and beg and struggle for every dime that we get," he said. "We will fight for this."