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Montana State University officially opened the renovated Romney Hall on Friday afternoon, with speakers standing on a circle of restored wood floor from the old gym of 50 years ago.

Held in the new Cruzado Auditorium, university officials welcomed students, staff, faculty, alumni, donors and legislators — current and former — to celebrate the completion of renovations to the historic hall.

The opening ceremony was the culmination of funding asks in five legislative sessions over almost a decade and just over two years of construction. The remodeled building will be home to 17 classrooms, with the university estimating it will be one of the most-used classroom buildings on campus.

“I thought it was absolutely gorgeous, until I went inside,” MSU President Waded Cruzado said to laughter as she recalled her first sight of Romney Hall. “… There were entire rooms that had nothing inside but dust.”

Opened in 1923, the building had become almost unusable for classrooms and students by the time President Waded Cruzado arrived at the university a decade ago.

In addition to classrooms, the building will also hold centers for mathematics, writing, veterans and students with disabilities — a key element in its design, according to university officials.

“These services are the glue that hold our lives together as students,” said Associated Students of Montana State University President Norris Blossom.

Joe Schumacher, director of MSU Veteran Services, said the new center — which moves from the basement of the Strand Union Building to the first floor of Romney — “will be a game changer for veterans in Montana.”

The new veterans center will be called the Travis W. Atkins Veterans Support Center, named in honor of a solder from Bozeman who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2019 after he died shielding three soldiers from a blast.

Elizabeth Burroughs, chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, and Michelle Miley, director of MSU Writing Center, both spoke on the importance of additional space and resources to better serve students.

“What you will find is a beautiful space where students are learning together,” Burroughs said.

Miley said in last eight years the writing center has gone from 12 tutors with around 5,000 student contacts per year to 24 tutors and 10,000 student interactions per year.

While the university has high expectations for students, Miley said, “never once will you be alone.”

In addition to expanding classroom spaces and offering offices for support services, the renovations to Romney were also designed to be ADA compliant. Before the renovations, only one classroom in Romney was “marginally accessible” for students with disabilities, according to the university.

David Sussberg, who said he was speaking on behalf of disability services, said he was grateful to the university for the design of the building and its accessibility.

Following the opening ceremony, the building was open for people to walk through and explore the classroom spaces and rooms that will house the support services centers.

The university first began lobbying the Montana Legislature for funding on renovations for the historic hall in 2010, making an ask from Legislative sessions in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and successfully securing it in 2019.

The bill to fund the remodel of Romney Hall with $25 million was passed by the 2019 Montana Legislature and signed by then-Governor Steve Bullock. MSU was required to raise an additional $7 million in private donations to fund the $32 million renovations.

Construction on the hall began in July 2019, shutting down Grant Street from the Black Box Theatre to the west edge of the Strand Union Building’s loop.

As the event wrapped up, Cruzado recounted lessons she learned during the years of searching for funding, including the importance of tenacity and humor and how to build and strengthen community.

“Today is truly a great day to be a Bobcat,” Cruzado said.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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