Bobcat Athletic Complex

For $18 million MSU plans to reconstruct the north end zone with bowl seating and behind that build a two-story building as the football program’s new home.

Construction of a new home for Bobcat football came a step closer to reality Wednesday when the Montana Board of Regents OK’d a draft agreement to authorize the $18 million project.

The regents voted 4-0 to approve Montana State University’s plan to lease Bobcat Stadium to the MSU Alumni Foundation to allow the nonprofit foundation to build the new complex — once all the funding and donor commitments are secured.

The regents also voted to allow MSU to spend up to $1.5 million right away to hire architects to design the project. That also is to be paid for by gifts from donors — not state taxpayer or student funds.

“We’re very excited about the approval from the Board of Regents,” Chris Murray, MSU Foundation president and CEO, said after the vote. “This gives us the chance to move the project forward.

“This project is going to change the face of our campus. It’s going to impact not only our student athletes but the entire campus really.”

Murray announced last week that the foundation still needed to raise $1.5 million. “We’ve still got money to raise, still have work to do, but we’re confident the Bobcat family is going to rise up and help us get this done,” he said.

MSU’s plan calls for building a two-story, 40,000-square-foot building to house the football program behind Bobcat Stadium’s north bleachers, those closest to Kagy Boulevard.

The Bobcat Athletic Complex building would have new locker rooms, weight training, areas for study, advising and rehabilitation, staff offices, space for a health provider and other improvements.

It is intended to improve the experience for football players and help with recruiting, retaining and graduating student athletes, said Ron Muffick, operations and administration director for the commissioner of higher education’s office.

The project is also intended to free up space in the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. That would be renovated as an Academic Excellence Center to give student athletes in other sports more room for studying and advising.

Once all the money is raised, construction is expected to take 16 to 18 months, said Michael Becker, MSU spokesman.

Nearly 350 student athletes now share space in the fieldhouse, which was built in 1958 for about half that many athletes, and today they’re crammed together, officials have said.

The plan to reconstruct the north end-zone area with bowl-style seating won’t happen as part of this project, Becker said, but is planned as part of future stadium renovations.

Leasing the stadium and surrounding area to the legally separate foundation will exempt the project from a lot of state contracting laws, Muffick said.

Leasing to a university foundation has become a standard practice with similar athletics projects at campuses around the state, Muffick said.

By state law, campus foundations constructing athletic buildings are exempt from state requirements like having to post requests for construction bids for two weeks in a newspaper, Muffick said. The foundation’s “request for proposal” process is still robust and the state Architecture and Engineering Division would still be involved, ensuring bidding is an “open, fair, transparent process,” he said.

The foundation wouldn’t be exempt from requirements to pay state prevailing wages, he said, which would apply to all labor except donated labor.

Regent Martha Sheehy asked if putting the foundation in charge would reduce the public’s right to information about the project and its funding. Terry Leist, MSU vice president for administration and finance, replied that donations to the foundation would remain confidential as always, but other documents would be public and many are already posted online.

Voting for the project were regents Brianne Rogers, Paul Tuss, Sheehy and student Regent John Miller. Recusing themselves from the vote were two regents — Bob Nystuen, Glacier Bank president, and Casey Lozar, who works for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis — who said they wanted to avoid any possible conflicts with any financing of the project. The seventh regent, Joyce Dombrouski, had been excused from the conference call meeting.

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

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