Adjacent to Grant Street and parallel to the Marga Hosaeus Fitness Center sits Romney Hall, a decaying building from a past era. Once home to a national championship basketball team, Romney now sits mostly vacant, serving only as a space for storage, some classes and labs for the College of Education Health and Human Development. As MSU grows larger and larger every year, Romney has yet to receive any serious upgrades. A lack of ventilation plagues the structure, and many former athletic facilities, such as the now abandoned pool, are left with no real use to students.
A proposal that will appear before Montana’s Legislature this upcoming 2015 session is a complete overhaul of Romney, a $28 million renovation that would turn the iconic structure into a hub of academic services for the university. If the proposal passes, design will begin in the spring, with the project expected to be finished by the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
In its current state, Romney Hall is almost completely inaccessible to disabled people, with only one of the rooms in the entire building accessible to those in wheelchairs. Renovations to the building would dedicate space for disabled students to be used as study areas. Tracy Ellig, the executive director of university communications at MSU, believes it is necessary to turn the currently inaccessible building into one that can be utilized by disabled students. “It would be a sort of poetic justice to those unable to access Romney now,” Ellig said.
The proposed renovation would gut Romney to its core structure in most parts of the building, turning many of the currently unused spaces into classrooms and academic support centers. With MSU growing every year, space for student collaboration is dwindling, and a renovation of Romney would vastly expand study space for students.
Currently, the math learning centers and the writing centers on campus are being used at capacity, with many students unable to receive the tutoring they need at the overpacked centers. In the past two school years, visits to the writing centers on campus have increased by 40 percent, and the math learning center saw an increase in visits of 13 percent. With the utilization of these services increasing, the spaces that they occupy stays at its current size. A renovation of Romney Hall would add space for math and writing help centers, giving the growing programs room to work with more students.
Ellig wants to make sure that students have the support needed to get a degree. “We can control what [student’s] experience is like,” he said. A focus for Romney would be technological advancement, such as the installation of Technology-Enabled Active Learning (TEAL) classrooms, which show a much higher success rate than traditional class settings. In Introduction to Statistics and College Algebra, two of the most failed classes at MSU, TEAL classrooms have brought the passing rates from 55 percent in both classes to 80 percent for statistics and 85 percent for algebra.
The main obstacle for the renovation of Romney Hall is a financial one; the Montana Legislature must allocate state funds in order for the project to go through. While the state currently has a surplus of funds, many members of the legislature are reluctant to spend such a large amount of funds on one project, although all of the 11 institutions in the Montana University System have agreed a renovation of Romney is the top priority.
Ellig cited that some individuals have been hesitant, asking why MSU could not fund the building through private donations having already done so for the construction of the Jake Jabs College of Building and Entrepreneurship and the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering, but relying on funding through private donations is not a feasible solution for such a project.
Romney Hall was slated for the 2013 Montana Legislative session but the motion did not pass. For the Romney Hall renovations to become a reality, the state must be behind the project financially.