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Liberal Arts Building

Mederios Babb, a sophomore in journalism and business, sits in the hallway of the Liberal Arts building at UM in November 2015. The Montana Board of Regents gave a $2.2 million remodel of the building a green light Friday

MISSOULA -- Old buildings are costing the Montana University System a lot of money -- with total deferred maintenance estimated at nearly $40 million just counting projects already identified as priorities.

Thursday, members of the Montana Board of Regents and Commissioner of Higher Education raised concerns at the backlog of maintenance needed on public campuses, including an estimated $20 million for the University of Montana.

"We're addressing real issues here," said Commissioner Clay Christian. "This isn't some Christmas wish list."

Christian named the Music Building at UM as one such priority. The building was designed to serve half the students it currently holds, and university officials have accreditation concerns, he said. At the meeting, the board discussed the list of long-term campus priorities, including the $14.6 million item for the Music Building.

"These are important projects to us, projects that serve students," he said. "They're not pork projects. They're not pet projects. We're asking that they not become political footballs."

Regent Bill Johnstone said the board has a fiduciary responsibility to the university system, and he feared its preliminary funding request wasn't adequate, an estimated $27 million operating budget for 2018 and 2019. He also suggested the leaders of higher education begin looking for alternative ways to fund needs.

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"If we are under-investing in infrastructure, that concerns me," Johnstone said.

The budget committee forwarded the priority list without objection for a vote and it was approved on Friday by the full board. Adopting the item sets the stage for the university system to make its budget request to the governor's office to present to the 2017 Montana Legislature.

In other business

In other business, regents approved a $2.2 million remodel of the Liberal Arts building at UM on Friday. About $2 million of that remodel will be paid for through a private donation.

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