While the 2013 Legislature approved funding for a variety of long-range building projects on Montana University System campuses, several schools told the Board of Regents on Thursday they were having difficulty raising matching funds needed to bring the projects to fruition.
University of Montana-Western Chancellor Richard Storey, Montana State University-Northern Chancellor James Limbaugh and Montana Tech Chancellor Don Blackketter expressed concerns pertaining to projects on their respective campuses.
“It’s not nearly as exciting for donors to fund seismic stabilization, or things between there,” said Blackketter. “I’d encourage us to look at realistic expectations on whether that should or shouldn’t require matching money.”
Chancellors asked regents if the expectations to raise matching funds, as stipulated in House Bill 14 approved by the Legislature, would be standard practice moving forward.
Clayton Christian, commissioner of higher education, said most likely so.
“The match portion of this House bill is new to this session,” Christian said. “It’s not how it happened before. It was the prerogative of the executive branch at that time, and it’s how they wanted to bring the bonding bill forward – with a match.”
Many schools have been asked to raise several million dollars to fulfill the match for projects, which include a $4.9 million auto tech center at Northern and $4 million in renovations to Main Hall at Western.
At Missoula College, for example, the Legislature funded $29 million for construction, but asked the University of Montana to raise $3 million more in matching funds.
Larger communities like Missoula, Bozeman and Billings have a fundraising advantage over smaller college towns like Havre and Dillon, some regents argued.
“We’re appreciative of the funds we’ve received,” Christian told the chancellors. “We need to make the matches happen, and engage in the future on how those matches need to be designed. We’ll work on that.”
Regent Todd Buchanan agreed, but added his own preference for finding new and unique ways to use existing buildings over constructing new ones.
“If this is a shift, we need to rethink how we’re doing things,” Buchanan said. “I’d love to see deferred maintenance instead of capital improvements. I’m afraid of huge brick-and-mortar campaigns. We’re passing that responsibility (of funding maintenance) on to boards in the future.”
The largest building project funded during the 2013 Legislative session went to Missoula College. When asked about the project, UM President Royce Engstrom said it was moving forward.
“The excitement level for this is incredibly high,” Engstrom said of the project. “It will be a huge step forward to a generation of Missoula College students and those who will be studying there.”
Engstrom expects the project to break ground next spring at one of two locations in Missoula. The final site selection has yet to be made.