A $5 million gift from the Alice Lee Lund Charitable Trust will help the University of Montana build a state-of-the-art auditorium.

The UM Foundation announced the donation Monday for the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences to create the venue with 500 seats and the latest technology.

"I do see this as such a central point for the future of the university," said Dean Roberta Evans, who noted the state and region will benefit from the space that will be UM's largest classroom when it opens.

The late Alice Lee Lund had a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education from UM. Wes Moholt said his sister taught school in Ohio and loved the profession, and she wanted to help her alma mater in Missoula through her estate, augmented by income from oil leases on her family land in North Dakota.

“To promote the education of younger children was probably the easiest way to describe" her aspiration, said Moholt, who managed the trust after Lund died in 2001. “She was a teacher, and that was her passion in life.”

The educator known as Ali was a champion of reading, libraries and children’s needs, he said. The auditorium will be named after her, the Alice Lund Instructional “ALI Auditorium.”

"She was a graduate of the college here and was so fond of the time she spent here," Moholt said.

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The new auditorium will serve as a classroom, conference and presentation space “that will be unrivaled in the region,” according to the UM Foundation. It will be open to other departments and community groups as well.

Dean Evans said the room is designed to be flexible, and it will be equipped with technology that will allow UM to share its achievements and discoveries throughout the state and the nation. She said the equipment will allow other people off campus to be immersed in the education and research at UM in real time.

“So it’s really a great opportunity not just for the university, but really for Missoula and honestly the state of Montana to disseminate so much good work here,” Evans said.

The auditorium will sit west of the education center with an exterior colonnade. OZ Architects' Dennis Greeno and Scott Gilder are designing the project, and Evans said they are ensuring the new structure will complement the existing one.

“The aesthetic of it is very much in keeping with the current facility we have, so it will be blended together beautifully,” Evans said.

She can already hear students talking about going to a presentation there in the future: “We love her name, and we can easily envision its prominence on campus and students saying, ‘We’re going to the ALI.’”

Programs in the college are growing, with some 2,500 students enrolled across the board, Evans said: “They also result in very powerful careers like teaching, but also community health.”

As she sees it, the auditorium will be a bridge between those students and the rest of the world.

“Thanks to its namesake, the ALI Auditorium will serve as a catalyst for bringing the rest of the world to UM, and will allow the expertise and innovation fostered here to extend across the globe.”

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Twedt Hailes of the UM Foundation said the team is still calculating the total amount of money needed to build the auditorium, but the $5 million donation is the catalyst.

“This is the first transformational gift towards the building,” Hailes said. “We’re excited that we’re going to be able to honor Ali’s and Wes’ work specifically with that trust.”

The gift is also evidence that “goodwill begets goodwill,” Evans said.

“It’s the current facility and the generosity of Phyllis and Dennis Washington that did to some degree inspire Wes when they walked through and saw the great traction we have with all of our programs, thanks to what we opened in 2009,” she said.

Ron Nelson, a lawyer at the Church, Harris, Johnson & Williams firm in Great Falls, now manages the trust. Nelson said he believes a groundbreaking might take place as early as spring 2017 with completion in December 2018.

“This is as much a tribute to Wes’ hard work and his commitment as it is to Ali’s initial contribution,” Nelson said.

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