Montana Tech proposes to eventually consolidate the north and south campuses — a move that could cost $35 million — within the next 10 to 15 years.

Presenting the idea is the first step in the long-term project.

“We’d love to move the (Highlands) south campus up to the north campus,” said Tech Chancellor Don Blackketter. “It’s difficult for students to travel from one to the other. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes.

“If we got it done in 10 years, we’d be doing good,” Blackketter told The Montana Standard Friday. “We’re telling the Legislature and the campus that this is where we’re headed 10 to 15 years from now and that we’re on the radar.”

The preliminary proposal is modeled, in part, on the Legislature’s approval of the University of Montana’s two-year Missoula College, which will relocate east of campus to a new $29 million building.

“We’re very similar kinds of institutions,” Blackketter added, “but they’re a little bit bigger than us.”

He reminded major players at a planning meeting Thursday that money could change during the extended process of refining the budget and prioritizing renovations.

Each campus in the Montana University System will follow the same process before the Montana Board of Regents and eventually the state Legislature approves refined plans.

Blackketter said Friday that Tech’s goal is to accommodate 4,000 students by 2020. Current fall semester enrollment for both north and south campuses stands at 2,932, including 913 students at Highlands.

Overall, 107 more students are enrolled compared to fall 2012.

Travel time and juggling classes at both sites create problems for students.

It takes up to 30 minutes to travel from the north campus to the south campus, so consolidating would centralize work for students, administration and staff.

“That’s a goal we’ve put out there for ourselves,” Blackketter said. “We expect our demographics to include our off-campus (distance learning) students.”

Michael Allen, the new Tech physical facilities director, said the consolidation would create savings for administration, students and faculty. Cutting down on travel costs is the first concern.

“Undoubtedly it would be years,” Allen said. “That site down there is valuable, of course.”

He added that local and out-of-town businesses have expressed interest in buying the Highlands College property at 25 Basic Creek Rd, south of Butte.

Also on Blackketter’s wish list: to expand 50 Tech-owned acres west of the north campus by eventually building additional dormitories, parking and student athletic facilities.

“Certainly, my goal has been to keep it as much a core campus as we can,” Blackketter said. “The more tightly knit your campus is with facilities, then the more it feels like a residential campus.” Students are then more productive and pedestrian traffic is improved, he added.

— Reporter Renata Birkenbuel may be reached at Renata.birkenbuel@lee.net and (406) 496-5512.

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