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Montana University System Requests $53 Million In Bonds For Infrastructure

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The Montana University System is asking lawmakers for permission to issue just over $53 million in bonds.

The money would be used to renovate existing buildings to protect the life and safety of students, faculty and staff;  bring the buildings up to code; and for improvements to classrooms and laboratories.

Among the projects: the library building at Montana State Billings. It has the largest lecture classrooms on campus, but it doesn’t comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Chancellor Mark Nook says the wheelchair lifts and elevators are obsolete.

"Both of these on more than one occasion have trapped students. We’ve had students stuck on the lifts and elevators on wheelchairs. So they are things we absolutely have to do."

Other campuses face deficient code requirements dealing with fire suppression. This includes asbestos that’s delaminating in the University of Montana’s Clapp Science Building.

Brandon Bart is a student at the Missoula campus.

"I know at the University of Montana it’s something the students are truly concerned with," said Bart.  "Especially when you walk in and there’s a sign on the door saying this building may contain asbestos and you’re not really thinking about the test, you’re thinking about asbestos."

Romney Hall at Montana State also has deficient fire suppression. Romney was built in 1922. There are no smoke detectors, fire alarms or sprinklers and since most of the building is not ADA accessible, Romney is largely unusable.

The $28 million bond request would transform the building to include classrooms, a tutoring center, and a larger space for veteran’s services.

MSU student and Marine veteran Stryker Anderson is pursing an agricultural business degree. He says the transition from deployment to the classroom was initially difficult.

"College algebra was actually the course I was taking that was quite difficult. And I was so angry at life, so angry at the course I called my dad up and I told him, ‘dad I don’t need to be here. I don't want to be here. I don’t need my degree. I want to get back to the ranch and start working out.’ He was like, ‘Well suck it up kid because you’re not coming back to my ranch ‘til you get your degree.’'

So Anderson went to his peers at the Veteran’s center.

"I went into the vet office. I started talking to other guys and they weren’t like other counselors telling me, ‘hey well sorry maybe you should take a few deep breaths or something like that.’ They said, ‘dude I’m just as angry as you. You need to suck it up. And that made me wake up and I sucked it up. I ended up getting a 4.0 GPA last semester, so."

The Bozeman campus has a veteran’s center, but they’ve outgrown the space in the Student Union building. Anderson says the demand will continue to grow as the wars wind down and more veterans enroll in college.

The bond request also includes projects at the seven Agricultural Research and Experiment Stations at for the Engineering and Science Building at Montana Tech.

Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian stresses the bond request is not for new buildings.

"These aren’t flowery, sort of new projects these are kind of roll-up your sleeves, take care of what we’ve got. I think Romney; great example. The state of MT is currently helping us to heat that building. It has single pane windows in it. It’s a large structure. The Clapp building we literally can hardly change a lightbulb in that facility without haz-mat teams and the rest," Christian said.

These requests are a small part of the omnibus infrastructure bill known as House Bill 5 or Build Montana. The Long-Range Planning Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to vote on House Bill 5 next Thursday.