Critics of the University of Montana’s plans to build on the South Campus, starting with a new Missoula College, rallied on Monday night in hopes of growing their grassroots opposition to block the plans.
With roughly 55 people in attendance, members of the group — Advocates for Missoula’s Future — described the South Campus and the University Golf Course as Missoula’s version of New York City’s Central Park.
Throughout the evening, they challenged the five-year process that led to the South Campus emerging as the state’s preferred location for future UM expansion. They also questioned how Missoula College became the first academic building planned for the 240-acre site.
“This is like the city of New York allowing some developer to put up buildings in Central Park,” Michael Wangen told the room. “I can’t believe our campus leaders would take this position, because it’s actually defiant to good design.”
Members of the group criticized UM’s South Campus plans as a mid-20th century design, saying it failed to address traffic, parking, noise, pollution or the impact on surrounding neighborhoods, among other things.
They handed out six different form letters to attendees and asked them to sign them for delivery to the Board of Regents, which meets for its monthly meeting in Missoula Thursday and Friday, Nov. 15 and 16.
Sally Peterson said the state should develop Missoula College on what’s known as the West Campus, located roughly 3 1/2 miles from UM and the South Campus at Fort Missoula.
Advocates for Missoula’s Future suggests the West Campus site is better suited to handle the mission of a two-year school, even if it’s located across the city.
They didn’t address the mission of Montana’s two-year colleges, which, by design, are sharing programs with four-year schools to expedite the acquisition of a degree. It’s a major factor in the state’s push to place Missoula College on the South Campus, officials have said.
During the meeting, Peterson shared her own vision of a West Campus design with the room, along with her desire to see the South Campus preserved. She presented idyllic pictures of fall colors emerging on the grassy fairways of the University Golf Course and discussed her love for the area.
“There’s a feeling about this land, which can’t be put into dollars, though it’s worth millions,” said Peterson. “We feel there’s complex layers to this, and we wanted to simplify it with an overview here tonight.”
Those who presented throughout the evening said multiple times that their push to preserve the South Campus wasn’t about golf but rather about preserving open space. At the same time, they also handed out pink bumper stickers saying “Save UM Golf Course.”
“This entire (South Campus plan) was rushed to completion,” said Ian Lange, who presented a history of how the South Campus became the preferred location. “The planning group itself was skewed. The most affected people had the least amount of input.”
Of the 20 committee members who created the South Campus Master Plan, four represented surrounding neighborhoods, including the University District and Lewis and Clark neighborhood.
Despite that representation, group members called the planning process a sham, saying committee members had no input.
They also suggested that Pat Williams, Missoula’s representative on the Board of Regents, had a conflict of interest on the issue since his wife, Carol Williams, serves as a state legislator.
“Do you know what Pat Williams’ position on this is?” one man asked the room.
“He said he needs to do what’s best for the university and the students,” answered Advocates member Keith Koprivica, who said he spoke to Williams. “I reminded him that doing what’s best for the university includes being a good neighbor.”
Wangen called Williams’ alleged answer a “cop-out.”
“He’s our only hope on this group of basically outsiders from around Montana,” Wangen said, referring to the Board of Regents.
Advocates also handed out fliers stating that the South Campus plan was “wrong for students, wrong for the community and wrong for the university.”
Few, if any, students attended the meeting. Over the past few weeks, many students have said they would prefer placing Missoula College on the South Campus, due to is location near UM and downtown.
While much of the presentation was a rehashing of information that has circulated for months, Lange told the crowd that the state has yet to answer several key questions.
Among them, he asked what happened to roughly $24 million in authorized funding to build a Futures Park on the West Campus.
“We’ve never been able to find out why Futures Park at Fort Missoula was terminated, how much federal money was received, and if it was received, where did it go?” he said.
The group will meet again Thursday at 5 p.m. at Sentinel High School.
Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, email@example.com or @martinkidston.