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College, in many ways, is a giant collection of experiences.

We are allotted our first dose of adulthood independence with the choice to attend class, or play Xbox all afternoon, to attend our study group or have a “Twilight” movie marathon…Edward!

These choices carry consequences and eventually we find ourselves in the Library at 1:15 a.m. cramming for an anthropology test, still not able to discern the distinction between anthropocentric and autoethnography.

Can I buy a vowel?

There’s something about the Library’s stiff chairs and stale walls that make it difficult to concentrate and focus. Further, the sheer starkness of the building and annoying hum of aged florescent lighting makes you wish you were somewhere else.

Somewhere, like MSUB’s newly-renovated Student Union Building.

Ch. 1: Project overview

In 2010, a plan was set into motion to renovate and remodel the school’s Student Union Building and bookstore. By 2011, formalized designs were drafted and construction began in 2012.

The new facility would feature a state-of-the-art Academic Support Center (formerly located across campus and relocated to the SUB), bookstore, coffee shop, café, copy center and increased study spaces. It would, in short, create a much more comfortable and contemporary campus environment for students and faculty alike.

Careful planning and construction in phases allowed for few disruptions during the process.

“There were minimal interruptions to student activities due to temporary services being offered through creative use of space,” said Jason McGimpsey, facilities service director for MSUB.

During construction, the bookstore storeroom was reconfigured to a temporary retail outlet, the coffee shop was relocated temporarily to the Petro Theater lobby and the Catering room was relocated, McGimpsey said.

Construction began just prior to last spring’s commencement and was completed by fall semester.

A needs-based assessment was conducted during 2010 to guide the process, where students requested an increase in informal study space, a new convenience store and coffee shop with additional seating.

“Student response has been very positive,” McGimpsey said, “and all of the MSUB community has embraced the project.”

Ch. 2: Designs take shape

Kurt Cummins and his team at Hardy Construction were hired as the general contractor for the build.

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One of the challenges to the project was, of course, the scope and sheer square footage that would be changed. This included several mechanical renovations, a new heating and duct system and sprinkler system. Another challenge, Cummins said, was the strict timeline he and his team had to abide by.

Partnering with a talented team of subcontractors and Kris Koessl from A&E Architects helped streamline the process.

“The team at MSUB was very organized and efficient, and the professionals at A & E helped guide that ship,” Cummins said. “We are delighted with how well it turned out.”

The project was divided into three phases: the first was the bookstore, second was the new coffee shop and third was the cafeteria/cafe and mechanical area.

“There were a lot of moving parts to this project,” Cummins said, “but we hit our deadline and were able to do much of the work without disrupting the students.”

Ch. 3: Study break!

Perhaps the most impressive addition to the renovated area is the new-and-improved Academic Support Center, said Isaiah Garrison, president of the Associated Students of Montana State University Billings.

“This change has done wonders for our students by creating a more attractive study area,” Garrison said. “Not only do students have an attractive area to study with ample space for tutors and student interaction, but as students walk past the new ASC, they see other students studying, which gives off a contagious attitude of academic prosperity.”

The improved access and comfort is also creating an environment that is keeping busy students on campus instead of running errands or hitting a local coffee shop to study.

“There is a day and night difference in the amount of commuter students that stay on campus during the day,” Garrison said. “Students love the new spaces to study, relax and participate in campus clubs and activities.”

The casual dining experience, new coffee shop and other amenities like flat screen TVs peppered throughout the area infuse modernity to the space.

A multi-purpose rec room, fully equipped with a foosball table, pool tables and cozy couches, provides just the right respite for eye-strained students.

Ch. 4: Fine design

From the beginning, the primary goals of the University were to update and revitalize the space by infusing the dated area with an attractive and timeless design. A warm color palette of toffees, slates and buttery yellow did just that.

Subway tile, both sleek and contemporary by design, accents several areas including the SUB’s Bistro. Oversized, rich maple cabinets further enhance the space. Sleek, shutter panels separate the Bistro from one of the SUB’s study areas, adding just enough separation for privacy without closing off the space.

In the Student Union Café, rich red brick mirrors the building’s exterior with spacious and ample seating filling out the space. Attractive epoxy flooring throughout much of the renovation continues into the Student Union Store, where students can pick up a T-shirt to send home to mom and dad. Contemporary, orb-shaped lighting fixtures add light whimsy to the space while photo wall paper reflects snapshot scenes from a typical day at MSUB.

“Before the renovation, you could only find a handful of students in these spaces at any time,” Garrison said. “But now, students use it constantly and recognize the SUB as a true Student Union Building where students can hang out.”

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