With fundraising efforts racing forward, the University of Montana on Thursday asked the state Board of Regents for approval to expend $10 million in private money to construct a new Montana Museum of Art and Culture.

The request was one of many projects presented by state schools to regents at their meeting in Great Falls. The Montana University System admits the list is long, but the projects are greatly needed.

“The needs across the system are significant, the deferred maintenance is significant,” said Clayton Christian, commissioner of higher education. “We have to come up with a list that represents what we think is the right mix of investments for the state.”

When combined, the projects across the Montana University System represent $128 million in deferred maintenance needs, construction projects or requests to expend private funding for needed facilities.

Montana State University is requesting $28 million in state construction funds to renovate Romney Hall, $3.5 million to build the final phase of Hamilton Hall, and $6 million to expand its library.

UM is seeking $10 million in state funding to renovate the Clapp Science Building, and $10 million to construct an addition to the Music Building. Without the latter approval, the university’s music program risks losing national accreditation.

“Our music building is a very nice building, but it’s very old and is undersized for today’s number of students and quality of education,” UM President Royce Engstrom said. “That came to light very pointedly in our recent accreditation visits. They were critical of our music facility, and rightly so.”

UM also is seeking state approval to expend up to $10 million in private funds to construct the Montana Museum of Art and Culture.

The university holds in storage a vast collection of precious art. Yet it’s rarely displayed due to a lack of space, and it’s stored across campus in conditions poorly suited for priceless art.

“We’re embarking on a fundraising effort to build or buy some sort of structure that will serve as the MMAC,” Engstrom told regents. “There’s some exciting potential out there that could develop very quickly. We want the authority to go forward as we bring in the money.”

The list presented to regents includes $39 million in deferred maintenance projects, including $9 million at UM and MSU in disability access renovations.

Construction projects check in at $88 million, while schools are seeking authority to spend $20 million in private funds.

Christian said the list has been vetted time and again by university presidents, deans and other members of the MUS. He said it was reduced to the greatest and most pressing needs.

“We have a lot of needs,” Christian told the board. “This is our best recommendation to you all.”

Regents are expected to take action on the requests at their May meeting.

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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