Gallatin College is growing and has ambitious plans to double enrollment so it can offer more students an education and job training and boost the economy, but to grow it needs more money and a bigger building.

The Montana Board of Regents will discuss the regents’ goal to expand two-year education throughout the state at its Jan. 8 meeting, when it will receive expansion plans from seven two-year campuses.

The expansion plan for Gallatin College, based at Montana State University, reports on its recent progress as well as obstacles to growth.

Gallatin College’s plan calls for growing from today’s equivalent of 333 full-time students to 800 full-time equivalent students in seven years. Yet to do so it needs more money, more staff and a permanent home.

There are no easy answers, Gallatin College Dean Bob Hietala admitted Friday, but he sounded positive that solutions would be found.

“We’re optimistic,” Hietala said, that the support from the local community, regents and MSU, which has helped the college grow to this point, will help it eventually become a two-year college that meets the community’s needs.

Gallatin College’s plan says it has a “critical” need for a bigger, permanent home, preferably 100,000 square feet with room to expand somewhere on the outskirts of MSU. Officials have checked out available commercial space, including two vacant Bozeman grocery stores, but those aren’t large enough, lack adequate parking and would require $8 million or more to renovate.

Hietala said there have been talks with private developers about the possibility of building near MSU and leasing space to the college, but those are “very preliminary” discussions. Trying to build on the MSU campus would likely cost more than $30 million and take years to win legislative approval.

In addition, the college’s $1.2 million budget needs more financial support than student tuition. The Board of Regents in 2010 put a limit on the general fund dollars that can be spent on Gallatin College until a fair decision is reached on seeking a local property tax mill levy. In five other counties with two-year colleges, local taxpayers pay a 1.5-mill levy.

To show support for Gallatin College, the Bozeman City Commission pitched in $123,000, equivalent to the 1.5-mill levy. Asking local voters to pass a mill levy was put on hold while local legislators tried, so far unsuccessfully, to see if state lawmakers would support a statewide tax to support all two-year colleges. If there’s support for putting a local mill levy on the ballot, Gallatin College and its advocates are ready to pursue it aggressively, the report says.

Gallatin College now offers two-year degrees and job-training certificates to 238 students, while also teaching “developmental” or remedial math and writing classes to 722 part-time students, most aiming for a four-year MSU degree.

Some students attend classes at Gallatin College’s headquarters on the first two floors of Hamilton Hall, a historic building on the MSU campus near the Strand Union Building.

Others take evening classes in Bozeman High School’s vacant B-wing, where Gallatin College is leasing space until 2016. That arrangement is temporary because the high school expects its enrollment to grow, and it’s not ideal because student support services are up at MSU. Students can take medical assistant and bookkeeping classes there, or work toward two-year associate degrees. Welding classes are also held in a metals lab at Bozeman High.

Gallatin College now offers three dual-enrollment classes for Bozeman High students, who can earn both high school and college credit. One of the college’s goals is to offer the same option to Belgrade High and Park High students.

The college also plans to work with local business and industry groups to meet needs for workforce training. In addition to training welders, medical assistants and bookkeepers, Gallatin College offers courses in aviation, design drafting technology, interior design, and home energy-saving technology. At the March regents meeting, Gallatin College will seek approval of a new job-training course in health information coding.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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