Montana State University has started demolishing the 1973 section of the Student Fitness Center where two gyms roofs collapsed under record snowfall — a first step toward eventually rebuilding the fitness center’s entire east side.

President Waded Cruzado announced last week that the decision was made in consultation with the university’s insurer that “the safest and most efficient path forward will be to rebuild the entire 1973 gym complex into a new structure.”

That means the South and North gyms will be torn down, along with the upper gym that’s still standing in between them, said Michael Becker, MSU spokesman. The middle section was never meant to stand by itself, he said.

No one was injured when the roofs collapsed. After the first collapse in the middle of the night March 7 at the South Gym, MSU closed the entire Marga Hosaeus Fitness Center and cordoned off the area, warning that it expected the North Gym roof to collapse. That happened March 9.

A crew from Montana Crane Service began Friday by tearing down the North Gym’s east wall with a large crane and heavy equipment. Demolition is expected to continue through this week.

It has to be done carefully to make sure no damage is done to the newer portions of the fitness center, renovated in 2008. That part of the fitness center remains closed to students and staff.

The rebuilding project will likely cost millions but no one can say yet exactly how much, Becker said. Asked whether the gyms would be rebuilt bigger or better, he said that discussions would start soon with students “to find out what they want.” Talks will start this semester and likely continue next fall.

“We’re going to talk with students about it,” he said. “It was built with student fee money.”

Some students have said they feel their fees for using athletic facilities should be refunded. MSU doesn’t know yet what it’s going to do about fees.

“We’re going to offer students a pro-rated credit,” Becker said. “We don’t know yet what the total will be.”

Though construction costs have escalated considerably in Bozeman, Becker said MSU is confident the loss will be covered by insurance, though the final total is not yet known.

Meanwhile, Cruzado said that MSU has moved all classes held in the fitness center and notified students of the new locations.

“Thanks to the work of many, we have found adequate space for each and every activity course,” the president wrote in a Facebook message to the campus community. Details are posted on MSU’s Recreational Sports and Fitness website.

Some weight and fitness equipment has been moved to Shroyer Gym and Romney Hall. Some classes will be held on Romney’s third floor, MSU’s original gym. Some rooms in the new Norm Asbjornson Hall will also be used.

Cruzado apologized to students and staff, thanked them for their patience and expressed optimism that the fitness center will reopen and a temporary solution to the loss of gyms will be ready by the start of the fall semester.

“While inconvenient now, this work prepares the university for a bright future,” Cruzado wrote. In the long term, MSU will work with students and other stakeholders to “plan and design a permanent facility that will meet the needs of our campus going forward.” She called it “an exciting and unique opportunity.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2633. Follow her on Twitter @gailnews.

Gail Schontzler covers schools and Montana State University for the Chronicle.

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