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Chris Livingston
Chris Livingston said architecture students benefit from real-world experience such as the additions to the local food bank and domestic abuse shelter.

"It’s been good for the students
to learn about non-profits. Hopefully, it gives them a good view of how big the world is and how fortunate they are."


by Carol Schmidt

Often, college lessons are the stuff of dreams, practice projects and imagined efforts that help prepare a student for life’s work. That is particularly true at most architecture schools, where students learn about their solid art by building theoretical structures in computer programs or crafting miniature Styrofoam and basswood models. But that isn’t the case at Montana State University, where for the past two years students in both the College of Architecture and the College of Engineering have helped design and construct buildings vital to Bozeman community service.

MSU School of Architecture students recently put the final touches on a 2,700 sq. ft. addition to the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. The project, which doubled the food bank’s size and increased the organization’s storage space five-fold, was designed and built by School of Architecture students. Key structural input came from MSU civil engineering students. It was the second community project for the students.

Last year MSU architecture/engineering students planned and built an annex to the Network Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse shelter in Bozeman.
Christopher Livingston, a 1985 graduate of and professor in the School of Architecture, organized and directed the two projects. Livingston was at the Food Bank site daily during the summer, shepherding the construction work done by the 21 student volunteers who donated 7,600 hours to complete the project.
“These projects are a powerful way for the students to see how buildings actually come together,” Livingston said. “We’ve done steel erection and concrete work, things they wouldn’t normally be involved in on a construction site. They’ve seen the full spectrum of construction with this project.”

The project includes a large warehouse area with natural light and radiant floor heating, a weighing station and truck bay, and a sorting area with a clever pivoting door. The new design also will allow Food Bank clients to browse and take their allotted amount of food rather than receive a pre-loaded box, as has been the practice in the past. “This is an incredible operation,” Livingston said, adding that four community service organizations work out of the facility—Paul’s Soup Kitchen, school lunch in the summer and the Senior Program as well as the Food Bank. “They do some incredible things and they deserve a nice facility.”

Among the most important lessons on the project, Livingston said, was a glimpse at realities most students don’t see. “It’s been good for the students to learn about non-profits. Hopefully, it gives them a good view of how big the world is and how fortunate they are.” While pounding nails into two-by-fours enriches the education of students who had only known about buildings from behind a drawing board, so does the experience of meeting budget and time constraints, Livingston said.
It was also good for the non-profit, according to Heather Grenier, director of the Food Bank. Grenier said having students design and provide construction labor saved the organization nearly $100,000. “Just in architectural plans and engineering, using students saved us about $40,000 and another $60,000 in labor over the summer,” she said. The total budget for the project was $150,000, including some funding from a federal grant, “which is a great price for a 2,700 sq.-ft. addition.”

The project began when Grenier’s organization sought the advice of the MSU Design Center about expansion and the College of Engineering’s industrial engineers for an efficiency study. Livingston learned about the project, which was just the kind of venture he was seeking for his senior design class. The class, primarily composed of architecture graduate students, designed the building last spring. The plans then were passed to Jerry Stephens, an MSU professor of civil engineering, who supervised two engineering graduate students as they worked on the structural design and filed plans with the City of Bozeman.

“I’m not sure there is anything that would be better experience for a student from a structural engineering perspective,” Stephens said. One of the two students, Jeff Johnson of Bozeman, said the job helped him prepare for his position at Bridger Engineering, which also helped consult on the project.

Concrete Accessories donated concrete forms and someone to instruct the students how to install them properly. “It may not mean a lot to the students right now, but I expect that this experience will give these students an advantage years from now when they are in an architecture practice or working on their own projects,” Livingston said. “These are the problems that they will see in the future. And as teachers, to prepare them for those realities is all we can hope for.”


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