The Montana Legislature is looking at a nearly $100 million dollar bonding bill (HB14) to fund a dozen construction projects at colleges and other state departments. These range from renovating Main Hall at the University of Montana-Western in Dillon to constructing a new Montana Historical Society building.
The single project in the bonding bill generating the most opposition is building a new Missoula College facility (formerly known as the Missoula COT) on the current University of Montana golf course.
University of Montana President Royce Engstrom says building on the golf course, otherwise known as “South Campus” is a proposal “thinking about the future of the University of Montana as a whole.” He says Missoula College is the next building that needs to be built, but UM has outgrown the main ‘Mountain Campus’ and other projects will need a space. He points out the UM golf course is less than a mile away from the main campus, versus the six to seven miles it takes to reach Fort Missoula.
“Where does the next building go, does it go in Fort Missoula?” Engstrom asked the committee. “Does it go at South Campus? Does is go along the River? That’s a very inefficient way to design and plan for the long term future of this institution, the University of Montana that is so important to Missoula and so important to the state of Montana.”
Similar bonding bills failed the previous two legislative sessions. Long Range Planning Subcommittee Chair Representative Rob Cook (R-Conrad) thinks there is “consensus the projects are necessary.” But he says there may not be consensus on approving bonding loans for all of the projects versus paying for them with cash from the state’s budget surplus. He does hope to see all of the projects stay together in one bill, however.
“Once you start to separate projects then the likelihood of that project actually getting funded and getting the go ahead is significantly reduced. The goal would be to keep as many of these together as possible,” he said.