MSU Lays out $53 million plan to Spiff up Dining Halls, Build New Dorm

As reported by The Bozeman Chronicle on October 23, 2013

Montana State University is working on a $53 million plan to build a new 400-student dormitory and modernize its outdated dining halls, as it seeks to house and feed a record number of students and to compete with other colleges for new students.

Wood-fired pizzas, espresso bars, a Mongolian grill and a bakery where students could smell fresh-baked goods – those are some of the ideas in the works as MSU tries to replace tired, institutional-style dining with something more up-to-date and inviting.

“We view it as a recruitment and retention tool,” Todd Jutila, director of university food services, said Wednesday. “If the food is lousy, (students) are not going to want to stay.

“I think this is fantastic,” Jutila added. “All the changes are ones students have requested. Even our staff is excited. Our operations are pretty outdated.”

At Wednesday’s University Council meeting, Terry Leist, MSU vice president for finance, told about two dozen campus leaders that the Montana Board of Regents must approve the projects before they can go forward.

Leist said MSU is hoping for approval at the November regents meeting for the $35 million new dormitory and $18 million dining hall upgrade.

No state dollars and tuition money would pay for the projects, which would be supported entirely by student dorm and dining fees. The new dorm wouldn’t require raising dorm fees for all students, officials said, because old debts for dormitory construction will soon be paid off.

While MSU’s enrollment has grown more than 24 percent since 2007, the number of students in its dorms has increased by 32 percent, said Tom Stump, auxiliary services director.

To house an additional 800 students, MSU has turned 272 single dorm rooms back into doubles, though most students today prefer singles. It has put 192 students in visitor apartments or lounges.

Another 218 freshmen are housed in 62 apartments normally used for family and graduate housing. And MSU just built the 72-bed Gallatin Hall and renovated 21 beds in Quad F, home of the Honors College.

Regents asked at last month’s meeting about using a public-private partnership to build new student housing, instead of MSU building by itself. Leist told the regents that an independent national consultant had investigated that idea and came to the surprising conclusion that MSU should do it itself.

One reason: MSU could spread the cost out over all its dormitory students, while a private builder would have to raise rents significantly higher at the new building to recoup costs.

MSU President Waded Cruzado told the regents she had been waiting three and a half years for the private sector to meet the need for new housing, with “zero results.” Most companies aren’t interested in building fewer than 600 beds, she said.

“We don’t want to compete with the private sector in Bozeman, but I have an obligation to my freshman class,” Cruzado said. “Don’t hold this project hostage because every day is important.”
Some students are picking other universities because of the age, style and condition of MSU’s housing, officials wrote in a report to the regents.

MSU has selected Schlenker McKittrick Architects, which designed Gallatin Hall, to design the new dorm. If OK’d by the regents, groundbreaking would occur in September 2014 and it would open in 2016.

Jutila told the University Council that the dining service has already made improvements recommended last year by a consultant. It started Late Night Bites, offering meals until 10 p.m. or midnight, and it’s now serving up to 2,000 meals per day, “an unbelievable success,” he said. It has hired a new executive chef and is hiring a “Montana made” food coordinator.

Jutila showed photos of upgraded dining halls at Penn State and other colleges that MSU hopes to emulate. Nelson Architects of Great Falls and Swank Construction have been hired to start planning the projects, after the regents approved months ago starting the design stage.

Lindsay Murdock, student president, offered Jutila a “big thank you” and said thanks for the dining improvements, “the way students talk about the food is different.”
“Students are going to love this,” said Brett Gunnink, engineering dean.