MISSOULA — Students sitting in an anatomy and physiology lab at Missoula College on Friday afternoon were surprised to see Gov. Steve Bullock and his staff walk through the door. #featured
Bullock was equally surprised to see the conditions of their classroom, and to learn their so-called lab didn’t have so much as running water or a sink.
“Our students don’t have the facilities they need,” Missoula College Dean Barry Good told the governor. “We don’t have the facilities to provide our students with the skills and knowledge they need for a 21st century education.”
Bullock got an earful from students and faculty during his campus tour. They pulled him aside in hallways and addressed him in classrooms and faculty meetings to deliver the same message.
They need a new school, and they need it now. And Bullock agreed.
“We’re teaching students in eight trailers you couldn’t even live in,” Bullock said. “Missoula College is an amazing educational facility, but it was built for 700 students and it now has 2,500 students. We can expand this campus and give the students what they deserve.”
The governor has proposed $29 million for construction of a new Missoula College as part of his Jobs and Opportunity by Building Schools initiative. He said it was essential for economic development and creating worker skills needed to attract new businesses and investment to the state.
The Missoula Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations across Montana agree, and have pledged their full support to the project. The Montana Board of Regents has named a new Missoula College its top priority.
“The governor is clearly committed to his JOBS bill and Missoula College is part of that,” UM President Royce Engstrom said. “We want him to have a clear understanding of the opportunities a new Missoula College presents for our students, and the challenges of the current facility that we’re in. I think he has a good appreciation of that.”
Improving the infrastructure of Montana’s education system is part of Bullock’s overall JOBS bill. He believes the initiative would create 2,500 immediate jobs with a total economic impact in excess of $300 million statewide.
Bullock said the state can take advantage of historically low interest rates by building the facility now. After the tour, he said the location of the new facility was up to the Board of Regents and the Montana University System.
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Students, however, had their own thoughts on location. Many feel their opinions have been overlooked in the locally contentious debate.
“One of the disadvantages of being over here, we don’t have access to the student services we pay for,” said Jay Moore, president of the Missoula College honors society. “In particular, with single moms, it would be the child care they offer at the university’s main campus. Having something closer to the university, so single mothers could have access to those services, would be ideal.”
University students said Bullock’s tour Friday was a promising start to building a new college and giving students the learning atmosphere they need for a quality two-year education.
The students are closely watching House Bill 14, which would fund the school’s construction, as it advances through the Legislature.
“The last time (Bullock) was here, the location issue wasn’t quite as high profile as it is now,” said Zach Brown, president of the Associated Students of UM. “It gives him an opportunity to take a real strong message to the community and the state that he’s supportive of House Bill 14 and the process the university has undertaken on this issue.”
Introduced by Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh, D-Helena, HB14 seeks $87.9 million in appropriations and $87.9 million in general obligation bonds to complete eight long-range building projects, including Missoula College.
The bill also allows the state to seek $57.8 million in other funding sources, such as donations, grants and general fund money. Those funds would be used to complete a total of nine building projects, eight of which pertain to the Montana University System.
“Students here are performing in an environment that’s less than desirable,” said Sarah Smith, vice president of the honors society who led Bullock on the tour. “I think this building speaks for itself – the crowd. It’s quite the statement even to see it.”