Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Alex Ross 

Northern still kicking around new athletic complex

 

February 16, 2018

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Greg Kegel leans agains a goal post on the Northern Lights football team practice field. Kegel has plans to build a new football stadium, with hopes to expand it to a major athletic complex, on the site of the practice field.

Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Greg Kegel said he plans to ask the Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education at their meeting in March to approve a proposal to bring the campus a step closer to having its own on-campus stadium.

Kegel said he will ask that the Board allow the Northern Alumni Foundation to temporally lease the practice field by Cowan Hall, so that construction companies who have committed to donate their time and equipment can get started on the project without having to go through the required bidding process.

After the first phase of the project is completed, the land will then be turned back over to the Montana State University System.

Longtime Northern Professor John Snider said the idea is ridiculous.

Football, he said, is not part of the mission of the university, which is to provide students with a quality education, adding that sports does not have a place in the modern university.

He said money would better be spent on Northern's existing programs, such as hiring an endowed chair for it's Native American studies program, on efforts to revive Northern's secondary eduction program, or on improvements to existing buildings such as the campus dorms or the Hagener Science building.

"There are many, many more things we should put our energy into," he said.

Snider originally brought up the issue in a letter to the editor published in the Jan. 5 edition of the Havre Daily News.

But the project is moving forward despite Snider"s objections, with widespread support for the project.

Conceptual drawings have been made and a plan written. The plan says the complex will consist of a stadium for the Northern Lights football team, along with a conference room, locker room, retail space, classrooms and a wellness center.

The complex is one of several initiatives Kegel has put forth as part of his campaign to boost Northern's student retention and recruitment. He said he has had groups of faculty and community members study the feasibility of each project.

Projects like the complex, Kegel said, will help attract more students, something that he said is crucial.

Though Northern has high job placement rates for students who graduate from Northern and the new Diesel Technology Center slated to open in March he still has to draw the students to Northern.

"With me, the stadium is mostly about the ability to get Northern's population to a level where I can sustain it," he said.

The Northern Lights currently play their home games off-campus at Blue Pony Stadium, which is owned by the Havre School District.

The Associated Students of Montana State University-Northern have voted unanimously in support of the project, and wrote a letter to the Havre Daily News saying so after Snider's letter was printed.

"If you can build a sports program at your college, you can basically create more of a college feel on campus, a bit more of bringing people together and create a common ground," said ASMSUN president Collin Miller.

Snider said that he received a lot of positive feedback about his letter.

"A university first and foremost is about academics, and so I am opposed to it for that reason." he said.

Trygve "Spike" Magelssen, who teaches the electrical program at Northern, said he would support a new sports complex, but Northern has many other academic needs that need to be addressed and those have to take priority.

"If they are going to build a football stadium, they better think about the academics and the programs, and the faculty salaries and the instructional budget first," Magelssen said.

Miller said the ASMSUN voted to back the project because the first phase will be funded with private donations. The donations, he said, were made specifically to go toward the sports complex.

Snider said that the fundraising efforts of Kegel and others should go toward other priorities.

"Here is what I have told the chancellor. If you are going to raise private money, raise it for something that is at the heart of what the school does,'" Snider said.

He said improvements to the campus dormitories should be a top priority and that since the football program was revived in the 1990s. student enrollment has declined.

Kegel said that last year Northern commissioned a study of four universities, comparable in size to Northern both inside and outside Montana, that built or expanded stadiums and sports complexes. The study says that in each case enrollment grew ranging from a 5 percent increase over two years at Montana Tech, when they upgraded their Alumni Coliseum, to Adrian College, which saw an 80 percentage increase over seven years.

Magelssen said donors should concentrate on giving that will help Northern sustain itself academically and bring back programs such as its music program, and offer other courses. Northern, he said, needs to spend more on its instructional budget and faculty salaries, to attract qualified faculty who can teach the programs.

"God bless the philanthropists that pay for that, but it is still not helping our institution with the programs that are here or that need to be here. So maybe those philanthropists should think about Montana, society and the things that are needed here, so that way we can be a stronger university," he said

Paul Tuss of the Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education said he has only seen early schematic drawings of the complex and has very little knowledge about the specifics of the proposal. However, he said, facilities built with private donations are often made by donors for a specific purpose and who might not otherwise be donated.

"At a number of our institutions, there are donors that are very specific about their interests in having their dollars go toward whatever it happens to be whether its a sporting facility, or it could be an academic building. But oftentimes those that are interested in donating, for instance this effort, would not be interested in donating to a new academic building on campus," he said.

When enrollment rises, Kegel said, the amount of federal, state and tuition dollars will also grow and allow Northern to expand its academic programs and do other campus projects.

Lorren Schlotfeldt, a Northern alum who now teaches plumbing in Northern's College of Technical Sciences and is president of the local faculty union, said he supports the complex. He said that he has a lot of athletes in the plumbing program, and that it might help bring in more students such as the wives and spouses of players.

"If it helps bring more students here, I am all for it," he said.

Tuss said that the Board of Regents will have to look at the specific proposal on its merits when it comes before the board.

He said issues that will be looked at when considering whether to move forward with Kegel's request include public opinion, how it will affect retention and recruitment and whether it matches the university system's overall mission. He also said making sure the project is something for which money can be raised is also important.

 

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