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A $12 million renovation of the science building at Montana State University Billings is on a list of priorities that might be headed for the 2009 Legislature.

Dan Carter, director of university relations, told a group of Billings-area legislators Monday that the MSU Billings science building was built in the 1950s and its labs haven't been updated in decades.

The science building remodel is fifth on a list of 19 projects that the Montana Board of Regents is recommending to Gov. Brian Schweitzer for a place in the budget he will send to the Legislature when it begins meeting Jan. 5.

Carter talked about the project during the first of seven public forums with local legislators at the MSU Billings downtown campus.

A dozen legislators came to the forum along with several MSU Billings administrators and staff members. Also attending was Ed Bartlett, who will represent the city of Billings, Billings Chamber of Commerce and Yellowstone County at the Legislature.

One other MSU Billings issue that is expected to come before the Legislature is the proposed joint city of Billings-College of Technology library.

The city and university are asking the Legislature for the authority to move forward with a plan for a branch of the downtown Parmly Billings Library to be built on the COT's West End campus.

Billings is one of the few cities of its size that doesn't have a satellite library, said John Cech, dean of the college.

The new library is needed because the present city library is too small and out of date and the college also has outgrown its tiny library.

The city and university have a memorandum of understanding on how to spend $150,000 - half contributed by the city and half by the university - to plan the building.

An initial plan for the building is a 50,000-square-foot structure that would include classroom and computer space. The new COT health science building was designed so a future library building could be built along side of it.

The city and university also are working on how to raise money for the proposed library, Carter said.

One of the legislators attending the meeting, State Sen. Bob Story, R-Park City, asked if brick-and-mortar libraries still are relevant in the age of the Internet.

Carter said that the Billings library continues to be well used by residents of all ages, including those who don't have computers at home.

Parmly Billings Library serves more residents per capita than any other library in the state.

More than 1 million books, CDs, books on tape and other items are checked out each year, Carter said.

On another issue, State Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, asked, in light of a growing demand for employees with advanced technical degrees, if the Montana University System planned a review of degree programs in the state to address this need.

Right now, it seems that state universities are more heavily funded for professional degrees than they are for technical degrees, Essmann said.

A bill for the upcoming Legislature has been drafted to launch such a study to look at what the right mix of professional and technical programs would be, Carter said.

Asked if technical degrees are more expensive to offer than four-year degree programs, Cech said that trade-and-industry-training programs are expensive and are difficult to pay for only with state funds.

To fill in the gap, the COT successfully has sought out grants and received financial support from local businesses and industries.

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

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