As Montana lawmakers debate which infrastructure projects outlined in the bonding bill should get state funding, the presidents of two of Montana’s public universities asked state lawmakers to invest in public education.
Montana State University President Waded Cruzado testified before lawmakers today in the final hearing on the $300 million bonding bill proposed by the Bullock administration. Cruzado says MSU’s student body has grown by a third over the past ten years, and the university needs the state’s help to fund new classrooms.
"The Romney Hall renovations we have been saying is about classroom, classrooms, classrooms," says Cruzado. "But this morning, I want to remind you that in reality what we are talking about, it’s about students. And if you stay with me, and if you think a little bit, in reality what we are talking about is we want to educate more students, so they can graduate. So they an serve the state of Montana."
The plans for Romney Hall include 18 new classrooms and additional learning and study centers, with a price tag of $28 million. Cruzado told lawmakers that if they appropriate the funds for the renovation, construction will begin July of this year and be completed the beginning of 2019.
Interim President of the University of Montana Sheila Stearns also asked lawmakers to fund the Romney Hall project. She says the Romney Hall renovation is a top priority for the entire state university system.
"We work as a team is my point," Stearns says. "It is time, it is well past time for Romney Hall to be constructed and to serve those students who need those classrooms."
Montana’s Commissioner of Higher Education, student body advocacy groups and individual students also asked lawmakers to support the project. Markus Cravens, a U.S. Navy Veteran, now an MSU student, told lawmakers that the veteran’s study center proposed in Romney Hall will help veterans get a college education. He says the current center is getting too crowded.
"If it wasn’t for the MSU veterans center, I would have dropped out my first year," says Cravens. "And who knows? I could have easily become a statistic somewhere — suicide, homelessness."
He says it helped him adjust back to civilian and academic life.
No one testified against the Romney Hall renovation, but some Republican lawmakers say the Legislature should focus on passing an infrastructure bill that funds projects like roads, sewers and bridges, citing concerns over the state’s current budget, which fell below projections last year.