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An effort to build a community library at the Montana State University-Billings College of Technology campus is starting a new chapter thanks to a $250,000 federal appropriation.

The appropriation from the 2007 Transportation, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill was announced Wednesday by U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.

MSU-B and Parmly Billings Library representatives have been working on plans for a joint library to be built at the College of Technology's West End campus since a bond issue for a new public library failed in late 2002, said Bill Cochran, the city library's director.

The college library, which is small, and the city library, which operates out of an aging downtown structure, need room to grow.

The main city library would remain downtown and operate a branch in a new library building at the COT campus.

The structure probably would have separate entrances for college students and community patrons. Separate parking for public library users also would be built.

Other features are expected to include a children's area, and programs and community meeting rooms.

The West End of Billings now has a shortage of public meeting spaces that the new structure could help alleviate, said Dan Carter, director of government relations for MSU-B.

"What a great place for a neighborhood task force to meet," he said.

The university and library also might hold coordinated community lectures, seminars and programs there.

The appropriation will be used for planning, the initial design, conceptual work and site evaluation.

The West End library and improvements to the existing downtown library are part of the city's capital improvement projects for fiscal year 2009, Cochran said.

The tentative cost of the building is estimated at $12 million, with the city's part being about $7 million and the university's about $4.9 million.

The size of the building also has not been determined, although initial estimates were in the 50,000-square-foot range. The appropriation money will help planners come up with more detailed estimates.

Cochran, COT Dean John Cech and MSU-B Library Director Jane Howell have given many presentations about the project to the Billings City Council, and university and civic groups.

"It's been well-received everywhere we've discussed it," Cochran said.

The project has been helped along by the growing importance of two-year colleges in training students for jobs and emphasis on integrating higher education into the community.

Contact Mary Pickett at mpickett@billingsgazette.com or 657-1262.

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