Romney Hall Grant Street

Part of Grant Street will be closed for about two years while Romney Hall undergoes reconstruction.

The “renaissance of Romney” is about to begin. But first come the wrecking crews and the roadblock.

The $32 million renovation of historic Romney Hall in the heart of Montana State University is scheduled to begin Monday.

While the renovation will ultimately benefit MSU’s growing number of students, some may grumble about the inconvenience of navigating around yet another construction project.

On Monday crews will erect fencing around Romney. And Grant Street in front of Romney will be closed for the duration of the reconstruction.

Construction is expected to take a couple years, said Dan Stevenson, MSU associate vice president for university services. Work inside the building, starting with demolition, will begin Aug. 15.

MSU President Waded Cruzado sent a campus-wide message Tuesday calling the start of construction “very happy news.” MSU had tried since 2010 to persuade the Montana Legislature to put up money to turn the old building, originally a gym, into a modern classroom building.

The 2019 Legislature finally passed $25 million for the renovation. Lawmakers also required MSU to raise another $7 million for the project. Cruzado said that generous alumni and donors have committed $3.6 million so far.

“Instead of a marginally useable building with just four classrooms with a seating capacity of 141 students per hour, Romney Hall will hold 19 classrooms seating more than 1,000 students,” Cruzado wrote. In addition, Romney will house a writing center, a math center, an office serving students with disabilities and a larger veterans center.

Once finished, Cruzado wrote, Romney Hall will be a place that “nearly every Montana State student will benefit from during their time here and for generations to come.”

Grant Street, a major east-west route through campus, will be closed from the Black Box Theatre to the west edge of the Strand Union Building’s loop drive, said Michael Becker, university spokesman. Grant Street will be used by heavy construction vehicles and for storage of construction materials.

Streamline buses and other vehicles will still have access to the loop drive at the back of the SUB, off of Grant Street, but won’t be able to continue west to 11th Avenue.

There will be sidewalk detours, but students and staff will be able to enter the Marga Hosaeus Fitness Center, scheduled to reopen Aug. 19.

Two key goals of the renovation are to make the 97-year-old Romney Hall handicapped accessible and create classrooms seating a total of 1,000 students at a time, Stevenson said.

One problem with Romney now is that it has a split-level configuration that makes it difficult for anyone in a wheelchair, Stevenson said. The renovation will improve access by putting the first floor on one level and installing a new elevator.

CTA Architects Engineers drew up plans for Romney a couple years ago, while MSU officials were still trying to win legislators’ approval.

A CTA website described the “renaissance of Romney,” calling it an iconic building with significant historic value. It said the 47,000-square-foot building was constructed in 1922 in an Italian Renaissance style, with beautiful details, including tapestry brick and terra cotta designs, large windows, copper details and a barrel-vaulted roof.

Swank Enterprises based in Kalispell sought bids this month for demolition work, which is slated to go on through winter 2020. Removing lead and asbestos are part of the demolition.

When students return Aug. 21 they will find other big construction projects going on as well. Hannon Lawn and the parking lot in front of Roberts Hall are fenced off so some old trees could be removed and the site prepared for construction of the $20 million American Indian Hall.

Construction crews are also busy installing two giant bubble buildings to replace the North and South gyms, where the flat roofs collapsed in March under record snowfall. The bubble buildings will be used for a couple years while MSU designs and builds a permanent structure on the east end of the fitness center.

Cruzado invited the campus community to celebrate the kick-off of Romney’s renovation on Sept. 6 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Romney Oval.

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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