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Montana Tech has taken one step closer to getting some new digs – and potentially some new students, so long as university officials get their way.

Staff and supporters of the university braved the cold weather Friday afternoon during a groundbreaking ceremony for Tech’s new Student Success/Living & Learning Center, a planned 25,000-square-foot building that university officials hope will be a crown jewel for the campus.

The ceremony took place indoors at the Health Physical Education Recreation Complex due to the cold weather – but that didn’t stop Tech foundation members and other officials from plunging the proverbial golden shovels into dirt brought in just for the event.

University chancellor Don Blackketter described the building as a social, academic, and cultural hub for students in a speech he gave to more than 50 alumni, staff, and foundation members Friday.

"We need a place for our students to call home," said Blackketter, noting that the plan for the building came out of an assessment of student needs.

Joe McClafferty, Montana Tech Foundation president, said he imagines the center as a place where students can form long-lasting relationships.

And maybe one day two students could even get married there, he said.

“That’s the sort of thing we want to create. We want to create this sense of family, this sense of just what Montana Tech is all about.”

But wedding plans aren’t the only lofty ambitions the university has for the building; there are also the cold, hard ones made out of concrete and rebar.

When completed, the three-story building will include 166 dormitory rooms on the first two floors and a Living and Learning Center for studying and socializing.

The top floor, meanwhile, will be home to the campus business office, the Academic Center for Excellence, a Leadership Hall, a large open Creative Center, and the Tom and Mary Dyk Welcoming Center.

Enrollment services, along with a computer lab, dining hall, and study spaces, will also reside in the new building.

The student center is projected to cost around $24 million, about $8 million of which came from fundraising efforts, McClafferty said.

The price tag might seem hefty to some, but several officials who spoke Friday said that the investment can translate into increased enrollment and student retention.

“Impressions of your facilities are very important for students,” said Blackketter. “Students want to be able to come to a place and look around…and imagine themselves going to school there and living there for four years.”

Whether it’s French fries from the dining hall or a swanky computer lab, amenities matter in the competitive world of student recruitment.

McClafferty said that 9,500 kids graduate every year from high schools in Montana, about 4,500 of whom seek out higher education. But there are 20 higher-education institutions in the state of Montana, which means all of them are competing for a piece of a pie that isn’t all that big.

“We need to get (students) on campus (and) we need to provide a place where we can actually recruit them to our campus,” said McClafferty, noting that the enrollment center will be called the “Journeys Room.”

“This is where their journey begins,” said McClafferty. “This is where they find the direction and path that they can get on at Montana Tech.”

The Student Success/Living & Learning Center is planned to be up and running at Montana Tech by the spring of 2019.

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for The Montana Standard.

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