With a second building site now in consideration, the University of Montana opened the doors for public comment on Thursday evening, looking to gather residents’ opinions on where to locate Missoula College.
The university’s South Campus remains the primary option, though university officials are willing to consider building on East Broadway – a site that offers its own pros and cons, along with a list of opponents and supporters.
“I’m fully aware any site location we decide upon is going to be controversial,” UM President Royce Engstrom told a crowd of 100 or more people. “No matter what decision we end up making, not everyone will agree.”
Engstrom said school officials are looking to meet five key requirements in placing the college. Proximity to UM is first among them, though aesthetics, transportation and community strengths also play a role, as does potential for expansion.
“Ten or 20 years from now, Missoula College may be 4,000 students or even more, perhaps,” Engstrom said. “We need that flexibility to expand.”
Advocates for Missoula’s Future, a grass-roots group that opposes building on the South Campus, showed up to the meeting in force. They were led by their attorney, Quentin Rhoades, who said he’s representing the group pro bono, as he himself lives near the South Campus.
Rhoades reaffirmed his group’s position that the university has no legal authority to build on the South Campus. He cited history stemming back to 1922, when an effort began to preserve the land for student recreation and donate it to the school.
“The regents have to manage the property donated to them for the specific purpose of the donation,” Rhoades said. “It’s our view that you don’t have the option of managing that quarter section of land outside the purpose of the donation.”
Other opponents lined up to voice their own opposition to building on the South Campus, including mayoral candidate Peggy Cain, who said she grew up golfing on the University Golf Course.
“We’re not talking about any old patch of land, we’re talking about a sacred patch of land,” Cain said. “Our forefathers thought it was so important for university students to have an area to recreate that they raised money themselves.”
Others, however, argued in favor of building the college on the South Campus, including City Councilor Alex Taft, who called the East Broadway concept – as presented Thursday night – an eyesore.
“This is not a beautiful campus – it’s a sea of parking,” Taft said of the East Broadway proposal. “As an urban planner, this is the kind of bad structures that were put in place in the 1950s and 1960s in cities.”
Taft said the South Campus location was selected after years of open discussions, community advisory groups and many meetings.
He was joined in his support of the South Campus by several others, including Nancy Wilson, a state legislator and director of ASUM Transportation.
“The South Campus we’re really excited to support if that’s one of the two spots,” said Wilson. “We have to reject East Broadway for many reasons.”
Others rejected the East Broadway site as well, citing aesthetics and traffic. Some supported the site, however, saying a nice “midrise” building would give visitors a good impression when pulling into Missoula, and serve as good advertising for the university.
No rendering of the building was presented Thursday, though architects mentioned a three- or four-story structure that could be expanded upwards in the future.
Engstrom told regents this week that once the university decides location, it will look to break ground next spring or early summer.