Yellowstone Hall File

Yellowstone Hall, completed in 2016, is Montana State University’s newest dormitory. Montana State University is asking the Montana Board of Regents to approve the university’s plan to build a new $58 million dormitory.

The Montana Board of Regents will meet in Bozeman on Thursday and Friday, when they will vote to hire a new University of Montana president and approve Montana State University’s plan to build a new $58 million dormitory.

For the growing MSU campus, the regents are also expected to OK $4.5 million in improvements to the Dobbie Lambert Intramural Fields. To pay for it, students voted overwhelmingly last spring to impose a recreation fee on themselves of roughly $20 per semester, to install an artificial turf field that can be used year-round and make other improvements.

MSU is asking the regents to rename the College of Engineering after alumnus Norm Asbjornson. He has donated more than $55 million, including $50 million that made possible the new Asbjornson Hall, which is under construction and will house the Engineering and Honors colleges.

The regents are expected to vote Thursday around 10 a.m. to honor two accomplished MSU professors, microbiologist and immunologist Mark Jutila and chemist and photophysics researcher Patrik Callis, by naming them as regents professors.

Despite the regents’ busy schedule – leading up to the big ‘Cat-Grizzly football game here on Saturday – “the whole meeting is being overshadowed by the special session” of the Legislature, said Tracy Ellig, MSU spokesman.

The governor has called lawmakers to Helena starting Tuesday to deal with a $227 million budget shortfall. Whatever happens could mean the governor will cut state funds to the University System by $4.5 million, under what Ellig has called the best-case scenario, or by as much as $44 million under the worst case.

Budget cuts wouldn’t affect MSU’s plans to build a new dormitory with 480 beds – even bigger than Yellowstone Hall, which opened last year with about 400 beds. MSU would sell up to $58 million in bonds to cover the estimated $50 million construction cost and related financing. The debt would be paid back using fees students pay for dorms and dining halls – not with tuition or taxpayer money.

As enrollment at the Bozeman campus has grown to a record 16,703 students, the number of students using the dorms has increased from 3,402 to 4,187 – more than the dorms were built to hold. MSU has coped by turning lounges and visitor apartments into dorm rooms for 167 students, putting nearly 300 freshmen into Family & Graduate Housing apartments, and converting nearly 200 single rooms into doubles.

The new dorm “is expected to take pressure off the campus housing enterprise and the Bozeman housing market,” MSU reported. Private developers built a 500-bed apartment complex just south of campus, which “captured a significant number of off-campus meals” that students used to purchase at Miller Dining Hall. MSU is currently building a second new $18 million dining hall, not far from the Antelope parking lot on West College Street, where the new dorm would be built.

Private developers are planning two more apartment complexes with 800 beds near campus in the next two years, MSU reported. But the report concludes that demand for housing is so high in Bozeman, those would be “complementary” to the new dorm.

The regents plan to hire Seth Bodnar as the next president of UM, with a salary of $313,845, the same as MSU President Waded Cruzado. As a senior executive at General Electric, Bodnar has an unconventional resume for a university president. He has been a Rhodes and Truman scholar, earned two master’s degrees at Oxford University, graduated first in his class at West Point, later taught there, served with the Army’s Green Berets, served as special assistant to a general in Iraq and rose to the rank of major.

The regents are also scheduled to hear updates on Joe Thiel’s study for restructuring the University System, on budget cuts, on Title IX, on a dyslexia pilot program and on programs to increase high school graduation rates and give students clearer career pathways.

The regents meeting begins Thursday at 8:15 a.m. in MSU’s Strand Union Building Ballroom A. Two public comment periods are scheduled, Thursday from 5:15 to 5:30 p.m. and Friday at 10 a.m. A reception for the regents will be held at Romney Hall at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

If the Legislature’s special session finishes in two days, lawmakers on the Education Interim Committee are scheduled to visit Bozeman High School and Bridger Charter Academy on Thursday morning. The committee is set to meet with the regents at 8:15 a.m. Friday.

The complete regents agenda is online (http://bit.ly/2ztds9m).

Gail Schontzler can be reached at 406-582-2633 or gails@dailychronicle.com.

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