South Gym Replacement

The Board of Regents has approved spending $3.5 million to design a new Student Wellness Center at the Marga Hosaeus Fitness Center.

Montana State University plans to spend up to $3.5 million to see if the area where two gym roofs collapsed could be replaced with a new Student Wellness Center.

The Board of Regents voted unanimously last week to OK MSU’s proposal to plan and design what might end up as a major project costing $30 million or more.

“It will be a significant project,” said Clay Christian, commissioner of higher education. “It will have some significant costs associated with it.”

Christian explained that the Wellness Center would combine three projects into one.

First, it would replace the two older gyms at the Marga Hosaeus Fitness Center that had to be demolished after their flat roofs collapsed last March under heavy snows. Replacement costs would be covered by MSU’s insurance, through the state’s Risk Management and Tort Defense Division.

Terry Leist, MSU vice president for finance, said campus officials anticipate that gym replacement would cost somewhere in the range of $25 million.

Second, Christian said, designers will investigate the idea of building a new home for student medical services, dental services and counseling & psychological services.

Student medical services are now in the Swingle Health Center, built in the 1950s and expanded in 1970s. Its space hasn’t grown while student enrollment grew from 10,000 to 17,000 students.

A report on the building’s “serious deficiencies” found lack of space means longer wait times for students, privacy is compromised, there’s not enough room to isolate contagious or violent students, and bathrooms are small and smelly.

Counseling has outgrown its nearby second-floor space, and had to add offices in distant Culbertson Hall to accommodate more counseling staff, to meet with students facing emotional crises.

“The need has grown, the campus has grown,” Christian said. Best practices around the country say that it makes sense to combine physical health and mental health services, he said, “seeing the whole body, from mind to soul.”

The cost for a new student medical and mental health center would fall on students.

The third part of the project would replace fitness laboratory space that professors from the College of Education, Health and Human Development used in the basement of Romney Hall, now removed to make way for Romney’s $32 million renovation into a classroom and student services building. Part of the Romney renovation, approved by the 2019 Legislature, included moving those fitness labs.

Before any construction could start, the Student Wellness Center project would have to be brought back to the regents for approval, probably in May or July, said Ron Muffick, the commissioner’s director of operations and administration.

Regents Chair Casey Lozar said $3.5 million is rather a large budget for design and programming, and asked if there was a target for how much the building would cost.

Leist said design and programming typically cost 8% to 12% of a project’s total cost. That works out to a total cost of $29 million to $43 million.

MSU President Waded Cruzado told the regents that a dedicated group has been meeting for 10 months, holding conversations with students, faculty and staff members and alumni, “trying to envision what will be the best way to put this back in use for the benefit of our students and faculty.”

MSU, Cruzado said, wants to “come up with a facility we need at the most affordable price for students.”

Asked whether construction would require students to pass a new fee, MSU spokesman Michael Becker wrote Thursday that, “Students have told us that expanded and improved student health services are an extremely high priority — perhaps one of their highest. To expand those facilities would require students to vote on a fee. How much that could be won’t be known until we are further along with planning, programming and design.”

Regent Brianne Rogers said she was excited to see the potential new space for the health center and student counseling services.

“They do incredible work and they’re assigned to a really small space now,” she said.

MSU argued in its memo to the regents that having a Wellness Center in a prime location, in the center of campus across from Romney Hall, would help recruit, keep and graduate students. It would replace and rebuild 63,000 square feet of space lost when the roofs collapsed.

The architects working on the project are MMW Architects of Missoula and RDG Planning and Design of Des Moines, Iowa, Becker said.

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

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