The state Board of Regents approved a University of Montana plan to build a new Washington-Grizzly Champions Center on campus, along with the school’s request to finance up to $5 million to cover the remaining costs.

Kyle and Kevin Washington, sons of Dennis and Phyllis Washington, announced their $7 million gift last month on behalf of the Washington Foundation to help the university complete the $14 million project.

The 46,000-square-foot facility is planned for the stadium’s southwest corner. It will include new football locker rooms and a two-level weight room, open to each of the university’s 15 athletic teams.

“We enjoy tremendous visible facilities,” UM President Royce Engstrom told regents. “Washington-Grizzly Stadium is a real gem, and we have the highest attendance of any Football Championship Series-level football program in the country.”

But behind the scenes, Engstrom said, the school's facilities are aging and substandard. Locker rooms are small and antiquated. Training rooms are small, forcing some teams to train early in the morning or late at night.

“The Washingtons' gift of $7 million is the stimulus that allows us to go forward and complete this project,” said Mike Ried, vice president of finance and administration. “We have $9 million on hand, which leaves $5 million left to finance.”

Reid said the university has already collected $500,000 more in private donations, reducing the school’s $5 million financing needs. He said UM plans to raise as much in private donations as possible.

Reid said box sales and ticket revenues are enough to pay back any money that’s financed. No funding would come from state coffers, he said, and athletic revenues would cover the estimated $210,000 annual operating costs.

“We would not be increasing athletic fees and charges,” Reid said. “Under our current structure and with nothing changing, we have the capacity to cover it.”

Regents asked about a clause in the contract that would lease the land to the UM Foundation before construction. Regent Jeff Krauss of Bozeman asked for further explanation on the clause that allows state universities to take that route.

“It’s written to allow athletic facilities to be constructed and fundraised under the foundation,” Reid said. “The foundation controls the revenue and funds to construct, then turns it back over to the university. The university is very much in control of the project.”

Clayton Christian, commissioner of higher education, said the clause has been used for other athletic projects at both UM and Montana State University.

Both schools expanded their stadiums by working with their respected foundations. He said the clause is not open to academic buildings.

“It was created and has been used for almost every athletic facility since,” Christian said. “The south end-zone project in Bozeman used the same provision. The campus remains in control of the project, and remains very active in that.”

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