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Northern looks at multicultural center at Donaldson

 

September 25, 2019

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Trees shade Donaldson Hall on Montana State University-Northern's campus. The state Legislature has authorized Northern's efforts to raise money to convert the former dormitory, the first completely new building erected at Northern, into a multicultural learning center.

Havre's university is working toward bringing one of its oldest buildings to life and turning it into a Multicultural Learning Center.

Last legislative session Montana State University-Northern was awarded the authority to raise $6 million to renovate Donaldson Hall, the second oldest building on Northern's campus and the oldest completely new building.

Chancellor Greg Kegel said he has a vision of creating a center that deals with a variety of cultures.

"When you think about the historical things that have occurred up here, especially with our Native American culture, and you look back into time, a lot of that is absolutely still preserved as it was hundreds of years ago," he said. "There are places here that are like no other place in the world."

The plan is to convert Donaldson Hall to a place which can display every type of culture, such as railroad, farming and ranching cultures, he said.

"People who come to Northern do come out of those little cultural sets, and once they get here they are immersed, and when they get immersed they are immersed in this diversity," he said.

He added that he wants the center to be a stage to put all the diversity at Northern into one place where people can learn about one another.

"I'm really intrigued by that," he said.

Northern is also uniquely placed in a location which history is well preserved, he said. He added that north-central Montana is one of the few places left in the world where people can still find teepee rings, burial grounds and dinosaur fossils, all within a short distance of Northern.

For the last 15 years, universities, such as the University Of Notre Dame, have brought students to the region to do different activities, Kegel said. He added that last summer a group of Notre Dame students and a group of Northern students were able to work together on site doing research.

"We have these things that nobody else has," he said, adding that it attracts people from across the country and from across the globe.

He said that for the moment Northern is not considering offering any additional classes for paleontology or archaeology to its students once the learning center is completed, rather keeping it as more of a place of activity for students.

"We don't know right now," he said. "We are in that phase of what would work the very best. We know that we got something; we don't know exactly what it is."

The multicultural center would also have a museum aspect, he said. The building would be full of different displays, which would be open to the public. He added people would have the ability to read, see and experience how other people live.

"It would be like a Smithsonian of the cultures of this region," he said. "... That's the diversity part that you want. Everybody to feel like we are all part of it."

He added that making everyone feel like they are part of something bigger is one of the main goals for a university. 

Kegel said that he also suspects when the renovation is complete the Museum of Northern Plains Indians, now in the Vande Bogart Library, would be moved and incorporated into the new building.

He added that if Northern was able to raise the $6 million for the building, the university would have a wide range of things they could accomplish. He said that fundraising has begun.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Sun shines through blinds onto the floor of the ballroom in Donaldson Hall at Montana State University-Northern.

He said he is speaking with some different foundations who work with these kinds of projects and is trying to see what will work best for Northern's needs. He said the project has a number of different prongs, such as the building, which needs serious work on the infrastructure, and what groups the new building could attract.

"The building deserves it," Kegel said. "It's a prominent icon of the campus as well as the community, so I've got to figure out a way to bring it back to life."

"And I'm an opportunist," he added. "What we don't want to be is 'we could of, should of,' we want to be 'we could and we will.'"

The building has some complexity to it, he said. It already has dorm space, common quarters, bathrooms and kitchens. He added that getting the building back to being usable as well as establishing the Multicultural Learning Center also goes with his main objective of stabilizing enrollment at Northern and making it more attractive to students.

"Anything that is positive for the university is positive for the city and the region," Kegel said.

 

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