Not a moment too soon, Missoula College is in the process of being reinvented and reinvigorated.
It already has a new name and a new, more comprehensive education strategy in place. All it needs now is a new campus.
Actually, the educational institution formerly known as the University of Montana College of Technology has been in need of a new campus for a long, long time. That much, nearly everyone agrees on. The sticking point has been over where to locate this new campus.
With the 2013 Legislature in full swing and state legislators actively considering whether to approve funding for a new Missoula College building, it’s high time to bury this last bone of contention. The Missoula community needs to come together in support of the new Missoula College, including its location on the university’s South Campus.
This location was not chosen lightly or without due consideration of other options. In fact, the university has taken pains to describe its planning method to the public in a series of community and neighborhood meetings. The planning process itself began more than 10 years ago with master planning for the main campus. The final plan received approval from the Montana Board of Regents in 2007.
Yet Missoula College is still struggling to meet the needs of thousands of students in long-outdated facilities designed to hold only hundreds. It needs new classrooms designed to provide today’s generation – and future generations – with the kinds of learning experiences they need in order to become successful graduates.
That’s why the college has won the support of such organizations as the Missoula Chamber of Commerce, which earlier this month announced that funding for a new Missoula College will be its top legislative priority. The local chamber, which was joined by six others in Montana, describes such facilities as “critical for our business community’s economy.”
The funding request for Missoula College is contained in House Bill 14 and asks for the state to provide $29 million to pay for construction costs. It also asks legislators to authorize other fundraising methods for the remainder, including bonds, which means a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Legislature is necessary for passage.
Unfortunately, a small but very vocal group of opponents is threatening to lobby legislators to stop any possibility of development on the South Campus. Legislators, in turn, should also hear from the majority of Missoulians who understand that this truly is the best possible place to build the new Missoula College.
It’s true that plans for developing the South Campus will mean using a portion of the space currently occupied by the UM Golf Course. However, university officials have gone out of their way to accommodate the local golfing community in preserving the golf course, if not for the foreseeable future, at least for the next few years.
The plan also preserves a great deal of open space, and community meetings are ongoing to collect suggestions on which other amenities Missoulians would like to see included in the South Campus site plan.
UM should be commended for so diligently working to include the community in its development plans. Such inclusion hasn’t always been the case, but under UM President Royce Engstrom’s direction, the university has very visibly gone out of its way to accommodate the concerns of the larger community.
Its critics, however, have not been nearly as willing to acknowledge that the university, too, has needs – and foremost among these is providing a quality education for its students.
It’s plain to see that the university, which has experienced growing enrollment in recent years, is running out of space on its main campus. The South Campus plan is designed to meet the university’s future expansion needs while integrating current student services today. That makes a lot more sense – both logistically and financially – than planning all future expansion for an area located in another part of town.
Funding for Missoula’s two-year college facilities has been identified as a priority for the past two legislative sessions. This marks the third time funding for this important educational institution will be up for a vote. This time, it must pass.
This time, Montana’s legislators must demonstrate their understanding of the critical role two-year colleges play in higher education by approving a new Missoula College.
EDITORIAL BOARD: Publisher Jim McGowan, Editor Sherry Devlin, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen