DILLON — Lt. Gov. John Walsh spoke at the University of Montana Western Thursday in support of House Bill 14, which would provide nearly $100 million for building projects for several Montana University System campuses, including $4 million for improvements to Main Hall at Western.
The money for Western would go toward the Phase 3 renovation of Main Hall, the oldest building on the Western campus.
The original Main Hall dates from 1896. Additions were made to the initial structure in 1907, 1924, and 1954. The Phase 3 renovation would focus on the 1924 and 1954 sections, updating the mechanical, electrical, seismic and plumbing systems, as well as bringing the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
House Bill 14 advanced from the subcommittee Thursday.
“Too often developing our 21st century workers is being done in 20th century facilities,” Walsh said. “So that’s really what this JOBS bill really focuses on, taking our education facilities around the state and bringing them up to 21st century facilities.”
Walsh said the bill would create new jobs and generate substantial economic activity throughout the state. He said the bill would help graduates as well.
“We want the students here at Western to graduate from this school, get good paying jobs here in Montana, be able to raise a family here in Montana and retire and grow old, so passing this bill is the first step in that vision,” Walsh said.
Susan Briggs, Western’s vice chancellor of administration, finance, and student affairs, spoke of the importance of the bonding bill. Briggs, who has been working at Western since 1998, is originally from Dillon, and she has overseen the first two phases of the renovation project at Main Hall. Those projects were completed with $10 million in state money provided by the 2007 and 2009 Legislatures.
“This has been such a privilege to work on at the end of my career,” Briggs said. “I remember visiting this building as a child and playing in its hallways. It is such a beautiful and important building.”
— Reporter Francis Davis can be reached at Francis.Davis@mtstandard.com