The study corridor at the new Missoula College sits along floor-to-ceiling windows above the Clark Fork River.

The baking kitchen already is equipped with a brand new, industrial Hobart mixer and another machine that jiggles dinner rolls to help them rise.

Once the ovens are hot, the aroma will waft through the entrance of the 110,000-square-foot building that's under construction and ahead of schedule with Jackson Contractor Group at the helm.

On the top floor, clear-faced cabinets are installed in the cadaver lab, a critical learning space that doesn't exist on the old campus.

The $32 million building project to bring a new Missoula College to the site on Broadway across the river from the University of Montana campus should be complete by February, five months ahead of schedule, said Kevin Krebsbach, UM director of facilities services.

The result will be an environment that offers as many as 2,600 students a beautiful place to learn and highlights the value of educating the workforce, said Shannon O'Brien, dean of Missoula College.

"The exciting thing about this building, from my perspective, is the dignity it will bring to our students, and the recognition of the value of two-year education will be phenomenally impactful," O'Brien said.

This week, university officials offered a tour of the construction project that launched in May 2015, and remarked on the vast difference between the old space and the new. The current campus was designed to serve 800 students, and it has nearly 2,000 enrolled and studying in buildings and makeshift trailers.

In the new building, students will have privacy when they talk with faculty and staff, and an inspiring place to learn from each other, O'Brien said.

The new place also will be ahead of the curve in terms of sustainability, Krebsbach said. He said UM's sustainability standard for new buildings is at least a silver level of LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

"I think we're going to hit gold for sure on this one," Krebsbach said.

***

The new Missoula College, five floors altogether, will offer faculty the space, tools, desks and technology to teach students, O'Brien said. The collaborative learning halls will allow students to participate in the peer-to-peer and group sessions that are part of the educational model at the college.

"We wanted a place that students wanted to be because if they stay here, they're going to get their homework done," O'Brien said.

The dean also said the new space will allow Missoula College to meet its mission of addressing the needs of business and industry. For example, the hospitality industry doesn't have enough workers, she said, and the college will have the facilities to be able to train students to enter the field.

In addition to the baking kitchen, the building has a kitchen for food production where students will learn to freeze and can, and an "a la carte" kitchen for cooking. It also offers a coffee bar, another feature with view of the river.

"The goal is to (have students) serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week when we're at full capacity," O'Brien said.

The college is being built for students, of course, but O'Brien said it's an investment by taxpayers, too. As such, she'd like to hold community events and business meetings in the space.

In April, before the summer session begins, the college will host the western regional conference for dual enrollment.

"That will be the first event we'll be doing," O'Brien said.

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The new building will bring the radiology lab under the same roof as other college programs – currently it's on the Mountain campus, Krebsbach said. It also will mean the space for programs is thought out in advance, O'Brien said.

For instance, the PharmTech program has students working in a compounding pharmacy, a retail pharmacy, and a hospital pharmacy, O'Brien said. The old space offers improvised and retrofitted pharmacies, but the new building will have those three components in its design.

She's also pleased with the wet labs, especially since students who will use them already are performing well, she said. Some 95 percent of the nursing students at Missoula College pass their boards the first time around, besting the national average of 85 percent, she said.

"We're very proud of it," O'Brien said.

On a tour last school year, the accreditation team that looked at the new space was "enamored" with it, she said. "They were delighted for us."

At least one of the conference rooms that faces Mount Jumbo also has floor-to-ceiling windows, and it will double as a small classroom. The building also will accommodate the college's estimated 80 faculty and staff.

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This week, one worker was methodically power washing a stretch of newly laid cement. A team would be installing mechanics in a room that will be the largest classroom space in the college, accommodating as many as 200, and other workers were outside pouring more cement.

"Those finish guys are pretty impressive," said Amanda Armstrong, project engineer with Jackson. "It takes a touch."

The grand opening will take place around graduation this coming spring, and if the work continues as it has, more progress will be evident soon.

"In two weeks, it will look like a whole different place again," Armstrong said.

One feature O'Brien is especially pleased about is the addition of a flagpole. She said it will stand at the entrance to the building and be a signal to students who were in the military.

"I want to send a message to veterans that this is a wonderful place for their next steps," O'Brien said.

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Reporter for the Missoulian