The Yellowstone Science and Allied Health Building will educate the health care professionals and other scientists that Montana – especially the eastern half of our state — needs to grow and thrive economically.

The renovation and expansion of the 71-year-old science building will provide state-of-the-art labs and classrooms for degree programs in biology, chemistry, pre-engineering, pre-medicine, pre-pharmacy, rehabilitation, mental health counseling, psychiatric rehabilitation, health and physical education for teacher certification, coaching, athletic training, health and wellness. The Montana State University College of Allied Health Professions also educates mid-career professionals statewide through its master of health administration and RN to BSN degree completion programs.

The impact of this health and science education is tremendous for Billings and Eastern Montana. That fact surely persuaded the Montana Coal Board to approve a $500,000 grant last month to help with the $5 million capital campaign to start renovation and expansion of this center for science education.

Incredibly, the board is now considering rescinding the grant award – not because of the project merits, but because of a technicality on what agency requested the grant. Word that the grant is in jeopardy hit MSU Billings suddenly last week. Community supporters, including educational and economic development leaders, quickly responded to plead with coal board members during a teleconference meeting Friday.

The science building supporters were told that the grant application needed a “local government” applicant, rather than MSU Billings. Big Sky Economic Development fits that criteria and has long been involved in advocating for the science building. Big Sky Economic Development eagerly offered to become the grant applicant. That sounds like a good solution, but not all coal board members said they will agree to it.

What’s certain, for now, is that the Yellowstone Science and Allied Health Building grant is on the coal board’s agenda for its next scheduled meeting, which begins at 8:30 a.m. on March 22 in Billings.

The MSU Billings Foundation has made significant progress in the past year toward its $5 million fund-raising goal needed to match a $10 million state appropriation and begin construction. Loss of the coal board grant would be a big setback. It would break the positive momentum for achieving the $5 million goal soon.

We call on the seven coal board members to affirm support for the Yellowstone Science and Allied Health Building and reapprove the grant. We call on Montanans throughout our region to speak up now in support of this long-needed upgrade to science and health education facilities.

We encourage readers to write letters to The Gazette and to communicate directly with the coal board by going to http://comdev.mt.gov/ContactCB  and sending a message.

Let’s turn this challenge into a rally for the science building. Let’s remind the coal board and our communities why science and health education matters to all of us.

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