Here's a pop quiz for college students, future college students, employers and Montana legislators:
1. Where in Montana can you find an organic chemistry classroom in which students still work on tables used since before the classroom was constructed in 1947?
2. Where does paint flake from overhead pipes?
3. Where do electrical cords powering lab equipment dangle from the ceiling?
4. Where is the roof of a research greenhouse peeling away?
5. What classroom building has exactly one spot where the structure doesn't vibrate so much that it interferes with the use of an electron microscope?
6. Where can you find a florescent microscope in a janitor's closet?
As many Montana State University Billings students know, the answer to all these questions is the Science Building on the main Billings campus.
The two-story brick building has long been a campus priority for renovation. It accounts for 20 percent of all deferred maintenance on campus. Planned when Eastern Montana Normal School had just 50 students, the Science Building now serves a student body of 5,000. One out of every seven of those students takes a class there every semester.
Parts of the building were renovated in 1977, but other areas haven't been updated since construction was finished in 1947.
Renovation and expansion of the MSU Billings Science Building was proposed to the 2009 and 2011 legislatures, but no long-range university building projects were approved. This year, the Science Building ranks again as the second highest priority project for the Board of Regents -- after replacement of the two-year campus that has outgrown its modular classrooms in Missoula.
The cost of the proposed Science Building project is $14.7 million, the same amount requested in 2011. The proposal includes adding a 30,000-square foot addition and then renovating the old 49,000-square-foot building. The expansion would allow the university to consolidate its Allied Health Program in the Science Building. Allied Health Profession students already take some classes in the Science Building. The program has 593 students pursuing degrees in health administration, rehabilitation, athletic training, counseling, health and human performance and outdoor adventure leadership.
Other MSU Billings science students are preparing for dental, medical, veterinary, nursing and pharmacy careers.
In recent years, MSU Billings faculty have increased their science research. The teachers and their students need up-to-date facilities to train for science jobs and to make Montana competitive in the global marketplace.
In the past two years, MSU Billings has graduated more than 1,800 students. Eight-six percent of them stayed to work in Montana. Montanans account for nearly 90 percent of the university's students.
An investment in a better Science Building is an investment in the future of Montanans who will use that education in their careers. It is an investment in the wellbeing of the Montanans they will serve in various occupations.
Using $14.7 million to renovate and expand the building also will create construction jobs over a three-year period and put Montana dollars into the Montana economy. Interest rates are favorably low for a major project that has been too-long delayed.
Montana lawmakers will hear of other long-range building projects. Others may have merit, too. But we call on the lawmakers from Yellowstone County to remember the sound reasons for investing in the MSU Billings Science Building. We urge them to make sure their colleagues in Helena know what this science project means for Montana.