The cost to remodel a University of Montana dorm has doubled due to price increases for materials both locally and nationally.
Aber Hall, an 11-story residence facility on the north side of campus, will be home to administrative offices typically found in the Lomasson Center during construction for the new Food Zoo cafeteria.
The Montana Board of Regents unanimously approved the cost hike during its July meeting on Thursday.
“This item sets a record for facilities, I am appearing three times in front of the board in nine months — kind of indicative of the construction climate we’re dealing with right now,” said Ron Muffick, director of operations and administration with the Montana University System.
The board initially approved the project in November 2020 for $1.3 million, which later increased to $1.6 million by May 2021. Now, the project is expected to cost $3.2 million.
The climbing cost of materials, supply chain issues and labor shortages contributed to the price hike, Muffick said.
“Further refinements” within the project are also driving the price, he added. After the city reviewed the project several things needed to be remedied to bring the building to code, including improvements to meet standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act and a backup generator for the elevator.
The university has received bids for the project that are all “within the increased authority amount,” and Muffick doesn’t anticipate any additional increases for the project in the future.
“The scope of the project remains the same,” Muffick said.
Construction on the new Food Zoo is expected to begin in December and will begin with the partial demolition of the Lommasson Center as well as the north wing of Craig Hall, a student residence building. The project will be supported through the university’s bond proceeds and will not be paid for with student tuition, state taxes or academic budget funds.
"The infrastructure improvement projects underway at UM right now are student-centered investments," said university spokesperson Dave Kuntz in an email. "Every major construction project taking place between now and 2025 will be student-focused, with the intent to strengthen academic quality, improve access to student resources, and build upon the strong on-campus vibrancy at UM."
About 100 employees with offices at the Lommasson Center will be temporarily relocated to the first six floors of Aber Hall this fall, Kuntz said. Some offices will remain online during construction.
The remodel of the remaining floors will require “a future phase,” according to supporting documents in the agenda.
Opt-out fee approved
The regents approved an optional fee for the Montana Public Interest Research Group, commonly known as MontPIRG.
The student group is a nonpartisan organization that seeks to affect “positive change through educating and empowering the next generation of civic leaders,” according to its website.
It has been at the University of Montana for nearly 40 years and provides opportunities for student engagement and citizenship, said Helen Thigpen, executive director of government relations and public affairs for the Montana University System. The group is supported financially through an optional student fee.
“That is an important piece to keep in mind is that it’s an opt-out fee, meaning that students have to specifically opt out of paying that fee,” Thigpen said.
Typically, MontPIRG is included in the biennial budget recommendation following the legislative session. However, due to controversy surrounding Senate Bill 319, the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education recommended it not be included this year.
Gov. Greg Gianforte signed Senate Bill 319 into law in May. The bill places opt-in rather than opt-out restrictions on fees for student organizations that are required to register as political committees. It has been challenged in two separate lawsuits. The University of Montana is not a party in either suit.