In Helena, Governor Steve Bullock continues pushing for a series of infrastructure bills, part of which will go towards long-term projects in Gallatin County.
At Montana State University, the nearly 100-year-old Romney Hall sits across the street from the brand new state-of-the-art Norm Asbjornson Hall, but Romney Hall – originally built to house a gym and swimming pool - is having trouble securing funding for a renovation.
At last week’s State of the State address, Governor Bullock recognized the project as “the university system’s number one priority,” calling the lack of legislative action for the renovation an “embarrassment.”
But now, Romney Hall’s renovation makes up $32 million of the two-term governor’s $440 million infrastructure proposal for the state.
"The university has had ten years of continuous enrollment growth,” says Vice President of University Communications for MSU, Tracy Ellig. “And we are basically running up against a wall in terms of available classroom space."
The centrally-located hall currently utilizes four classrooms to 140 students. Renovations to Romney would boost its capacity to nearly 19 classrooms and over 1000 seats for students. Ellig says those seats are absolutely necessary in order for the university to meet its current and future enrollment at the university.
Not to mention other issues students, faculty, and staff face, like the interior design lab that shares space with what was previously the men's locker room (the showers and soap dispensers just feet away from the room's computers).
Perhaps most egregious of all, the building, with its many stairwells, is entirely inaccessible to anyone with disabilities.
But how is more student seating and widespread accessibility an investment in the state?
Bozeman Deputy Mayor Chris Mehl says it’s the students who will fill those seats that will create a brighter future for communities throughout Montana.
“MSU is growing,” Mehl explains, “and it’s educating Montanans and sending them back across the state to live and work in their communities where they came from. That’s vital to our long-term economic health.”
If the infrastructure proposals pass, Gallatin County could potentially see $53 million go toward additional projects.
Mehl says the area needs that funding because it’s created one in four of the state’s jobs over the past 20 years, and it’s taking a toll on the county’s roads, bridges, waterways, and sewage systems.
But Mehl also believes the infrastructure package is about thinking statewide.
"Just as important as what would happen in Bozeman is the funding that's in there for rural communities," says Mehl. "They really - especially eastern Montana - they need help with sewer, they need help with water. I mean these are life-essential services, and those communities don't always have the tax space to be able to support those projects. So for them, those projects are vital, for us they're also really, really important. And so we have to think statewide and be good neighbors.”