With a decision on location now made and $29 million in legislative funding in hand, plans for a new Missoula College entered the scoping phase Thursday night, bringing the project one step closer to reality.

The scoping session, the first phase in completing the required environmental assessment, drew a crowd of roughly 50 people to the Holiday Inn Downtown, where project architects and environmental consultants detailed their plans moving forward.

Mark Headley of StudioFORMA, based in Bozeman, said plans for the new college call for a four-story building that meets high energy standards. A walk-out basement is planned allowing access toward the Clark Fork River.

Headley said the property’s terrain lends itself well to the project. He believes it will allow for riverfront renovation in the years ahead.

“We’ll be utilizing that bluff extensively in that regard,” Headley said of the sloping terrain. “This part of the river is very transitional. It’s a patchwork quilt right now. We hope our project sets the benchmark for development along the river.”

The 7-acre site offers many other benefits, including proximity to downtown Missoula and the UM campus. All major utilities are in place, with the exception of adequate fiber-optic service.

Headley said the current park-and-ride facility will remain on the property. Parking will meet city standards, even though the university is exempt from doing so.

“It’ll be brought up to Missoula standards, including landscaping,” said Headley. “We’ll be planting quite a few trees in the parking lot.”

Early plans call for 430 parking spaces at the school, with an additional 240 located across East Broadway on a railroad right-of-way. Another 40 spots will be shared with the Montana Technology Enterprise Center, which sits next door.

The building’s footprint will cover roughly 31,000 square feet. The project’s first phase will include about 100,000 square feet, Headley said, with 33 classrooms and offices for 60 faculty members.

“The building fit on the site, and that was the big green light,” he said. “The Department of Transportation will have to review all we do on East Broadway.”

The city’s role in participating in East Broadway improvements hasn’t been detailed. Other projects are rumored for the area, including sites near Broadway and Van Buren Street, which could influence the college’s development.

Stephanie Lauer, project manager with JBR Environmental Consultants, said the environmental assessment will look at cumulative impacts associated with other projects currently planned or proposed.

“It won’t just be an analysis of the proposed project itself, but how it interacts with other planned or proposed, or reasonably foreseeable projects in the area,” said Lauer.

The Montana Environmental Policy Act requires the Missoula College project to undergo an environmental assessment before work can begin.

The work starts with a scoping session, introducing the public to building plans while lending an opportunity for comments and concerns.

Lauer said those comments will be addressed in a draft assessment expected out by mid-December, allowing for more public review and comment. A final decision is expected out in January.

UM President Royce Engstrom would then give the project a green light to move forward, or send it back to the drawing board. If all goes well, Headley expects construction to get underway in roughly one year.

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

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