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The site of the new Missoula College was a busy place Monday morning as crews were moving dirt for the new building.

It’s been years in the planning, but ground is finally being broken at the East Broadway site of Missoula College's new $32 million home, on the banks of the Clark Fork River.

About 30 workers, including truck drivers, crane operators and backhoe operators, are digging up tons of earth, as phase 1 of construction begins.

According to project manager Jake Berger of Jackson Contractor Group, the general contractor for the project, phase 1 includes all the work necessary to prep the site and lay a solid pad before the actual building is constructed, which is phase 2.

Workers have been surveying the site and laying down absorbent material to prevent any runoff from polluting the river.

“The building site has been used as a fill location for multiple University of Montana projects for a few decades, so to get to a stable substrate we have to over-excavate 25 feet from the existing grade at the building pad location, and then we’ll go down 10 to 12 feet below what will be the river-level slab area, which daylights out onto the Clark Fork,” Berger said.

The actual building will be more than 100,000 square feet and four stories high, with one floor being the daylight basement.

It is expected to be completed in 18 months, and was funded with a $29 million allocation from the Montana Legislature and $3 million in private funds.

When it’s finished, Missoula College will house 30 vocational programs in fields like business technology, nursing, heavy equipment operation and culinary arts.

Paul Marcum, the project superintendent, said Jackson Contracting Group has subcontracted Knife River Corp. to perform much of the excavating work.

“We have to set up a screen and get rid of all the big rocks before we do anything,” he said.

The workers also have a 100-foot exclusion zone they have to stay away from to protect an osprey nest, although the birds haven’t returned from their winter sojourn yet.

Phase 1 is expected to be completed by May 12, after which the site will be ready to have the building’s foundation poured. Berger said the bid package for phase 2 will be released Wednesday, and bids will be taken the second week of April.

“We will award the bids and start on the foundation at right about the same time,” he said. “We’ll be self-performing quite a bit of work.”

A ceremonial groundbreaking was held last August, but this groundbreaking is just as significant, according to Missoula College dean Jane Baker.

“We are excited about it,” she said.

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