Montana State University

Multiple MSU building projects progressing

October 9, 2006 -- By Carol Flaherty

MSU's revamped Health and Physical Education Complex is seen in this architectural drawing courtesy of Mike Dowling, Dowling Architecture of Helena.   High-Res Available

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Walk around the Montana State University campus and you'll find yourself walking around multiple holes in the ground and lots of big equipment.

Dollar-wise, today's construction is an all-time high at $37 million, with that due to climb higher when the Strand Union Building reconstruction and renovation begins in the spring of 2007, said Bob Lashaway, associate vice president for university services. However, he added that MSU probably had as much work underway in the 1990s, when the heating plant, several residence halls and the fieldhouse were all being worked on.

The projects that are being planned, are underway or recently completed include a chemistry and biochemistry research building, an extensive renovation of the Health and Physical Education Complex, a new Black Box Theater on the south side of the Visual Communications building on South 11th; renovations to Gaines Hall, Cooley Lab and the Strand Union Building, a new roof on Montana Hall, the addition of a USDA animal bioscience research building, an MSU animal bioscience teaching facility, and planning for additional parking.

All of that and more is encompassed by the MSU Tomorrow Project, which is a long-range plan to keep MSU's overall campus people-friendly. (see for news of public meetings on the plans Oct. 10 and 11)

Walt Banziger, director of MSU's Department of Facilities Planning, Design, and Construction, and his staff members are keeping tabs on each of the projects.

--The HPE complex is about 15-20 percent done, though some of its exercise facilities have remained open to students and staff throughout the work. With a total projected cost of $15 million for design, building and some equipment, "there will be a whole lot of things to love about the new site," Banziger said. Exercise equipment comes from a different budget.

Whereas visitors have grown accustomed to a maze of hallways taking them between sections of the HPE complex, the new site will be very open.

"You'll walk into a two-story space and you'll see bridges, the upper gym and all the activity occurring in the north and south gyms," Banziger said.

The project was designed by Dowling Architecture, PC, of Helena. Swank Construction of Valier and Kalispell got the HPE contract in March of 2006. Work began in April and is expected to be complete by November 2007.

--The Black Box Theater, under construction on the south side of the Visual Communications Building near 11th Ave., is the focus of Sletten Construction of Great Falls, which won the contract in May 2006. Banziger said the $4.2 million project is now in the foundation and site-work stage, with a projected completion date of June 2007. It will be of moderate size for a theater at about 12,700 square feet. Designed by A&E Architects out of Billings, its overall cube shape will allow flexible seating; it can have traditional theater seating one week and theater-in-the-round the following week.

--The Chemistry and Biochemistry Research Building, a new structure east of Linfield Hall, is about 55 percent complete. Designed by L'Heureux, Page, Werner, PC architecture firm of Great Falls, the building has a project budget of $23.3 million, to be paid from fees associated with research grants. The new building will add 73,000 square feet for research at MSU. The work by Dick Anderson Construction of Great Falls is about 55 percent complete and is slated to be done in August 2007.

--The new chemistry and biochemistry research space will be paralleled by improved teaching space in Gaines Hall. Renovations to that mid-campus building will include a new auditorium/classroom with high-tech tools to aid the student's experience. This will bring Gaines Hall back to its original instructional use, Banziger said.

--Also scheduled for renovation in 2007 is Cooley Lab. The $5 million project designed by Architects Design Group, PC of Kalispell will renovate the top floor of the 1950s-era building near 11th Ave. The building houses labs and offices for more than 100 students, faculty and staff in MSU's Microbiology Department. The work was to have included the top two floors of the building, but ballooning construction inflation required that the work be scaled back to one floor, with fund-raising to cover the remaining work in the future.

--While a new roof is difficult to get as excited about as new buildings, re-roofing Montana Hall was completed this year. Banziger said the $350,000 project was made more difficult by a steep pitch and lots of square footage. The new roof is an artificial rubber product, which mimics the look of the original slate that was removed early in the building's history. Maddox Roofing of Great Falls did the job on what is expected to be a "50-year" roof.

"This roofing product is lighter and cheaper than slate," Banziger said.

--Extensive renovation of the Strand Union Building has been taken back to the planning stages after bids came in over budget. Banziger said the redesign is still under development but is expected to be completed in January 2007. Bids are expected to be awarded by mid-March with an estimated 20-month building schedule making project completion about December 2008. The budget for the project is $11.6 million and will cover upgrades to the food services area, dining and seating, a New Student Services addition on the south side of the building and better handicapped access. Banziger said that some improvements will be made to the new Procrastinator Theater location in the SUB, though the extent of those changes will depend on the bids received for the rest of the SUB work.

--The USDA ARS is in the design stage for a new animal bioscience research building just west of 11th Avenue on the south end of what is known as the Antelope Parking Lot and near the Plant Biosciences Building. This is part of a two building Animal Bioscience Complex. To date, $6 million of the total project cost of $22 million has been approved by the U.S. Congress. The additional $16 million is currently in the U.S. Senate budget awaiting further action. About $8.5 million in gifts and pledges have been secured from private sources for a new academic facility that will enhance teaching and outreach capacity for the Department of Animal and Range Sciences in the MSU College of Agriculture.

Meanwhile Jo Oudshoorn, chairwoman of MSU's Parking Advisory Committee, said that plans for a four-story parking garage on South 8th St. at Harrison have been deferred for financial reasons.

"We have a new Parking Advisory Committee, which will be looking at improving parking and transportation issues across the whole of campus," Oudshoorn said. The committee is considering a range of options that include improving transportation on campus as well as improving parking, she added.

Contact: Walt Banziger (406) 994-6326 or