A handful of University of Montana students and faculty members thanked school administrators Friday for bringing the debate over where to build Missoula College to the college itself.
The afternoon scoping session – the second in two days – included many of the same faces and opinions that have been expressed time and again at meetings surrounding the subject over the past year.
But this time around, something new happened: A handful of students lined up in support of building the college on the South Campus, while faculty members simply urged administrators to move forward with whatever site they chose.
“I don’t think there’s a massive conspiracy on behalf of the university to pull one over on the public,” said Sue Bradford, responding to opponents of building on the South Campus. “My preference is to get this done. At the end of the day, life is full of tradeoffs.”
An educator at both UM and Missoula College, Bradford thanked administrators for inviting faculty and students to the debate, saying their voice hadn’t been fully heard.
“I’d like to thank everyone for creating a better opportunity for students and the people who work here to feel like we actually have a voice in all this,” Bradford said. “I would really like us to take seriously the priority of getting something built.”
Jeremy Haacke, a Missoula College student and member of the honors society, said the East Broadway site concerns him. Like several of his peers, he placed his support behind the South Campus.
“I think the South Campus seems to be the better option at this point in time,” Haacke said. “We have the space, it’s there to benefit university students and faculty, and it’s a better use of our time and money to develop that area.”
Haacke also told administrators that student voices hadn’t been heard up until Friday’s session. Like many who spoke at the previous night’s forum, he suggested that the Broadway site has issues, including size and safety.
“With the parking, having it on the opposite side of Broadway, there would need to be a way for our students to cross that location without having to put their safety in jeopardy to do so,” Haacke said.
Others urged administrators to revisit the old Fox Hotel site on Orange and Front streets, though UM President Royce Engstrom again said the option wasn’t under consideration.
Moderator William Marcus asked Engstrom if he’d already made up his mind when selecting a site – a question that stems from Advocates for Missoula’s Future, a local group that has accused the administration of simply “going through the motions” with this week’s public hearings on the college’s siting.
Engstrom said that wasn’t so.
“We have two viable sites on the table and both present unique opportunities and distinct challenges,” Engstrom said. “This is not a done deal. The decision is not made. I will make it after we receive comments from you today. We will synthesize everything and make a decision.”