The Science Building at Montana State University Billings will get a $15 million upgrade in the next few years. But first, the school will kick off a project this fall to raise the needed funds for the building.
It's part of a plan cooked up by the state Legislature. To renovate the building, MSUB must come up with $5 million, which the state will then match with $10 million.
It's an upgrade the university desperately needs. Original construction on the Science Building was finished in 1947 and in many places it shows.
"We've been making it work," said Jason McGimpsey, MSUB's facilities director. "You can make anything work."
That includes placing a $100,000, state-of-the-art microscope in a closet -- which happens also to have the only access hatch to the building's roof -- because there's no room for it anywhere else.
"It was really the only space we could locate it," McGimpsey said.
The renovations to the building and the addition of a new wing will solve many of those problems. Teaching labs that haven't been updated since the 1970s will get upgrades, as will classrooms and lecture halls.
Also included in the renovation will be new research labs and a commons area for students to come together and mingle, as the new building will house two departments instead of the one it has now.
Once completed it will be christened the Life Sciences Building and house the college's biology and physical science department and the College of Allied Health Professions.
The college will break ground for the new wing first and then renovate the classrooms and labs once the new addition is constructed.
"Not very many of us get to have a new professional home," said Rolf Groseth, MSUB chancellor.
An updated, top-of-the-line science building will help MSUB be more competitive as it vies for new students and goes out to recruit new faculty.
But more importantly, Groseth sees the upgrades as a way for the college to better support the economic health of Billings and the surrounding region.
Billings is a regional hub for the health care and energy industries, both of which are served by the science that will be taught in the new Life Sciences building, he said.
"We need to have these facilities to keep up with the community," Groseth said.
Over the summer, a design firm will draw up architectural plans for the building's renovation and addition. With the plans in place, the college will then begin its fundraising project in the fall.
Construction won't start until the full $5 million has been raised and the state's $10 million kicks in. So it'll be a little while before ground is broken, Groseth said.
But that's OK. Plans for updating the Science Building have existed in some form or another since 2005. In 2009, and again in 2011, college officials went to the state Legislature seeking funds for the renovations and both times they were turned down.
So at this point, the college is closer than it's ever been to seeing the upgrades actually happen.
"This is very exciting for us," Groseth said.