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Saving Donaldson Hall

Havre Daily News/Nikki Carlson, file photo

Lush trees surround the front entrance of Donaldson Hall at Montana State University-Northern in this July 2008 photo.

A major grant is coming to Havre that will help with two problems: preserving and renovating a historic university building and consolidating and expanding the operations of the local community health center.

Cindy Smith, the executive director of Bullhook Community Health Center, said the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services notified the center staff that it had awarded the operation $4,957,921 to lease, renovate and repair Donaldson Hall on the Montana State University-Northern campus and put all of its services there.

"We're doing some celebrations here, " Smith said Tuesday.

Northern Chancellor Jim Limbaugh said this morning that while he is in Bozeman this week he will be meeting with Montana State University officials to talk about the next steps.

"We have not yet had the chance to explore opportunities, " he said, adding that he expects academic partnerships with Bullhook, preserving the building and increasing partnerships with the community will be the three primary benefits.

Bullhook was one of several Montana health centers that received grants through the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature health care reform effort. Including the Bullhook award, this grant funding brought nearly $15.6 million to the state.

The next steps moving forward with the Havre project will be placing the proposal on the agenda of the Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education, and working on updating the plans, moving toward putting out a request for proposals on the work, and other steps in the planning process.

"We've just got to meet some deadlines along the way, " Smith said.

Bringing together two efforts

Donaldson has been in limbo since about 2008, when the university moved offices out due to problems with electrical, plumbing and heating systems. Estimates of the cost to restore the building and open it as a dormitory at that time ran as high as $8 million.

Bullhook opened in 2005 as part of the Hill County Health Department, offering medical services to the region including using a sliding-fee scale for low-income people.

Since then, it has reformed as a private nonprofit with medical services offered in a clinic next to Northern Montana Hospital, added dental services offered in the Atrium Mall, and has started offering mental health care, with an addiction counselor on staff.

Providing a 'medical home model'

Smith said a key will be bringing all three services together under one roof, providing what is known as a "patient-centered medical home model, " where the patients can receive all of their services under one roof.

She said the effort to plan and write the grant has included many in the community, including patients and input from MSU-Northern as well as from the center's staff and board members — many of whom also are patients. Part of that has included collecting input on how to make the facilities more welcoming and friendly to the patients, she said.

Bullhook board member Dana Pyette said using the medical home model will bring significant benefits.

"This consolidation of our services is a major effort towards being able to treat the whole person …, " Pyette said. "The basis of (the model) is overall wellness of the patient, not just diagnosis of the symptoms at hand. It is also the empowerment of the patient with the information and education to make the right choices for their personal health. "

Improving the university and the health center

Bullhook staff members said the move will help Northern by bringing Donaldson back into use and providing easy access to the center for the university students.

Bullhook Chief Financial Officer Brian Simonson said one benefit will be bringing more people from the community onto the campus.

"A large number of new people who do not normally interact with the university will be physically on campus and developing beneficially rewarding new relationships, " he said.

Smith said the program could be tied into the nursing program at Northern as well, possibly providing some simlulation laboratories or other facilities for the students in that program.

Simonson said one key benefit to the health center, along with bringing its services under one roof, will be providing more space for those services.

"Presently, the two clinics are busting at the seams with inadequate patient waiting areas, examination rooms and staff amenities, " Simonson said. "With this expansion, Bullhook can afford their patients with increased professionalism, their staff with increased capabilities and their community with increased opportunities. "

Expanding medical, economic benefits

Simonson said the project will provide many benefits to the community, economically as well as in increased medical service.

He said Bullhook now serves about 3,500 patients. The center staff members expect to grow that to 6,500 at the new facility.

That expansion would increase the number of jobs provided by the clinic, Simonson said, adding that it now employs 29 people. The center's strategic plans include increasing the number of medical and behavioral health care components of the operation, he said.

The renovation itself will be a boost, he added.

"Obviously, $5 million spent locally is a significant economic shot in the arm, " Simonson said. "Those renovation dollars are going to multiply as they circulate through contracts, payroll and retail within the community. "

Congressional praise of grants

The members of Montana's congressional delegation all praised the grants.

"These grants will invest in Montana's economy by supporting construction jobs right away and boost our Community Health Centers' work to make sure all Montanans can get quality, affordable health care, " Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said in a press release.

Baucus' release said he worked to include $9.5 billion in the health care reform to expand community health center services over five years, without adding to the national deficit.

A spokesman for Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., generally a critic of the health care reform, said the lawmaker supports strengthening community health centers.

"As chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees federal funding for community health centers, no one has done more than Denny in Congress to ensure these important facilities are a part of a comprehensive health care policy, " spokesman Jed Link said this morning. "Balancing the budget means setting priorities, and community health centers are clearly a priority for Montana. "

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., also praised the grant.

"Improving the quality of life along the Hi-Line helps folks live stronger, more productive lives, " he said. "This responsible investment will increase access to care while preserving a valued local landmark. That's a win-win in my book. "

A slice of Northern's history

Donaldson Hall was the third building used on Northern's campus and the first completely new building constructed on the campus,

The hall opened as a women's dormitory in 1936, the history section of Northern's website said.

The college was authorized in 1913, set to run in Fort Assinniboine south of Havre, but never funded.

In 1927, the Montana Legislature amended the 1913 act to allow classes to be taught in Havre, and classes started in the fall of 1929, taught in Havre High School on 3rd Avenue and 7th Street. The college remodeled a pump house located on campus land located near the present Student Union Building, known as East Hall, and started using it in 1932. It was demolished in 1979.

The second building used on campus, Pershing Hall, was built through the cooperation of the college and the Havre Chamber of Commerce. Transporting materials from Fort Assinniboine and using local scrip from the Chamber to pay workers and also using donated services, construction started in 1933 and the building opened in 1934.

Donaldson Hall was built using a loan through the federal Public Works Administration. It opened in 1936 and provided housing for 116 women attending the college. The building was named in 1949 in honor of a deceased Northern English instructor.

Its living room, Donaldson Commons, provided a space for dances and social functions and served as a symbol of the fledgling college, with pictures of the dorm used in the masthead of the college newspaper for many years.

Donaldson was retired as a residence hall in 1971. The lower floors were rented to the Havre school district at that time, and Donaldson saw limited use as a dormitory or temporary housing space in the 1980s and 1990s with regular dormitories operated in other buildings.

The Alumni Association completed a major remodeling of some of the lower floors in the 1980s and have worked on many other projects to maintain the building. The building housed several offices for the college, including the Alumni Association and the Foundation until 2008.

But failure of electrical, plumbing and the heating system in the building led to those offices being moved. The building has been essentially shut down for the last several years.


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