What’s up with Romney? The $20 million question

When it was built in 1922, Romney Gym was the metaphorical and literal heart of the university. The beautiful brick gym towered over campus, housed the “Golden Bobcat” basketball team and was used for dances, funerals and community events

Today, Romney Gym is much different. Though the outside architecture is still prominent, the inside of the building is viewed as underutilized, if not decrepit, housing an eerie 10,000-square-foot empty swimming pool. While the building is currently home to ROTC, physical education courses, and several clubs, it mostly serves as a large storage facility.

MSU administrators hope to change this, however, and are planning a $20 million renovation that would transform the building from its current obsolete status to a properly utilized space that would be a “center for student-focused services and activities,” with the possibility of changing the building name from Romney Gym to Romney Hall. While a budget has been set, it has yet to be determined what student programs and operations will be housed in the building, and what the space needs will be for those groups.

House Bill to determine funds

The building project itself is estimated to cost about $20 million, and the Romney Building Committee feels the cost “is a really good target,” despite not knowing conceptually what the building will look like at this point in time, said Walt Banziger, committee vice-chair and director of Facilities Planning, Design & Construction. The funds, he added, were estimated based on other remodels on campus, and consider the complexity of the Romney building and the scope of work that will need to be done, as the building has never undergone a full-scale remodel.

“Every project is different,” he said, explaining that it is not uncommon to estimate a building project budget without knowing exactly what will go into the building.

The project has come to be known as the Romney Renovation, and represents the Montana University System appropriations request in Montana House Bill 5. The request was previously part of HB 15, before being moved to HB 5 last week.

In the push to get funding from the Legislature, the project has been presented to the statewide community, including Governor Steve Bullock. “If we’re serious about where the state ought to be, we need to invest in these facilities,” Bullock said in a February visit to campus.

An additional $5 million has been budgeted for the project, but will be obtained through fundraising efforts, said student body vice president and committee member Lindsay Murdock 

The $5 million, Banziger said, will be used for displaced operations. Those programs that currently use Romney Gym will be relocated permanently after the renovation and will need a new space on campus; therefore, some small-scale renovations may be needed to meet this change.

Finding a design

In order to determine what will be in the building, the university intends to send out a Request For Proposal (RFP) inviting MSU community members to submit proposals for how they want space in Romney used.

The university was set to begin the RFP process after spring break, with the submission period staying open until the second week in April. However, university administrators, under the direction of MSU Professional Lobbyist Tracy Ellig, decided to postpone the process until the end of the legislative session. According to Murdock, the session is scheduled to conclude at the end of April, but could be extended 

After the session, Murdock said, the Office of the President will send out a letter inviting people to submit proposals for the space. The proposals will then be reviewed by the Romney Renovation Committee, which will submit its recommendations to the Space Management Committee. The proposals will then go to President Cruzado for review.

Murdock said that because this will take place after spring semester ends, which is inconvenient for many students, she intends to hold a forum this spring for students to voice their concerns and work on their draft proposals.

Upon completion of the RFP process, schematics will be developed to finalize the design for the building, which will begin this summer and could be a year-long process, said Banziger, with the possibility of construction beginning in May of 2014. Construction is predicted to take between 18 and 24 months, and the committee hopes to have the renovated Romney Hall reopened for the 2016 fall semester.

Maintaining the historical integrity of the building is a major focus, Banziger said. As a result, elements such as the North Lobby will be preserved. Additionally, the committee plans to make the structure accessible to individuals with mobility restraints and disabilities. These kinds of improvements, he added, will ensure Romney is used for the next 100 years. 

Student Voices

 Perhaps the most heavily used space in Romney is the dance studio adjacent to the old basketball court on the third floor. The space is used by numerous clubs on campus, including multiple dance and martial arts groups.

“The studio [in Romney] is where I learned how to love learning again,” said student Keaton Ramm, president of the SwingCats and Bozeman Blues dance clubs 

Ramm is leading a group of students who regularly use the dance studio and gym to create a RFP proposal in order to present a “united front” that is “a testament to the strong belief we hold that each one of our clubs is equally important in providing a place for students to continue to grow as diverse individuals.” 

“We are very excited about the renovation,” she added, “and glad to see MSU dedicating the building to further student success and involvement with direct goals of creating space for Bobcats to grow and develop through personal and academic activities.”

A look forward

Banziger said the Romney renovation surpasses plans to renovate Montana and Reid Halls because of President Waded Cruzado’s focus on student success at MSU, as the renovated building will be used as a center for students. This commitment means Romney will be “utilized to the best benefit for the state and for the university,” Banziger added.

As a result, the renovated structure will likely house offices and organizations which focus on student needs. This might include career and information centers, Banziger said, to not only “help students today, but also when they leave.”