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After 12 ceremonial shovelfuls of dirt, Montana State University’s new student wellness center is one step closer to a concrete reality.

Student leaders and university administrators during a groundbreaking Tuesday on the northwest lawn of the fitness center celebrated the start to the 150,000-square-foot construction project that will expand the current center on Grant Street.

“Today marks the beginning of a transformational improvement in student wellness here at Montana State University,” Norris Blossom, president of the Associated Students of MSU, said during the ceremony. “The new student wellness center will be a monument resource for students.”

The new building, designed by Missoula-based MMW Architects and RDG Planning and Design, is planned to host modern fitness facilities, a aquatic space, a larger climbing wall and combined spaces for mental and physical health services. Construction by Jackson Contracting Group is scheduled to finish in 2023.

“The new student wellness center will be the heart of student life on the south side of this campus,” Blossom said.

University Health Partners, which includes medical and counseling services, is also planned to be housed in the building.

The project was launched to replace facilities that were damaged or destroyed when a roof collapsed due to record snowfall in 2019. Insurance payments from the collapsed roof of the building, which housed two gyms and a pool, will cover about $36 million of the total construction cost, which is about $78 million.

“When we were forced by nature to start this project now several years ago, remember, we were roofless,” MSU President Waded Cruzado said. “We certainly had no idea that we would all experience one of the greatest historical challenges to health and wellness around the world.”

Cruzado said one of the vital lessons from the past two years is the importance of physical and mental health and where the two intersect.

“This is something that MSU students understood clearly,” Cruzado said.

Throughout the process, it has had strong student support. In spring 2020, 66% of student voters backed a $58-per-semester fee increase to pay for $22 million in construction bonds for the new facility.

“The student body elected to contribute towards the financing of this incredible building. This made clear how highly students value wellness resources and how far we would go to seem them come to fruition,” Blossom said.

Mental health has been a priority for students throughout the process. Jack Larsen, a junior at MSU who has a certificate in mental health first aid, said mental health services were at the top of students’ wants and needs, especially with so many stressors on students.

“It’s important to take care of both the physical and mental aspects of our bodies,” Larsen said.

While it may be two years before the project is complete, Larsen encouraged his fellow students to take care of each other and reach out if they see someone needs support.

The process has not been without its hiccups. In August, the Board of Regents approved spending authority for an additional $18 million after previously approving $60 million. It brought the total construction authorization to $78 million to complete the project due to construction inflation.

“This facility will be so much more than a fitness center,” Blossom said. “It will cover all aspects of student wellness that deserve resources and commitment to achieve.”

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Liz Weber can be reached at or 582-2633.

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