Bobcat Athletic Complex

For $18 million MSU plans to reconstruct the north end zone with bowl seating and behind that build a two-story building as the football program’s new home.

By Gail Schontzler Chronicle Staff Writer | Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Montana State University will take a step Wednesday toward realizing its dream of a bigger, better home for Bobcat football.

The university will ask the Montana Board of Regents to approve spending $1.5 million for architects to design the $18 million Bobcat Athletic Complex.

MSU will also ask the regents, who are meeting by telephone conference call, to OK an agreement to lease the stadium and surrounding area to the MSU Alumni Foundation so it can take charge of constructing the complex.

Chris Murray, Alumni Foundation president and CEO, announced last week that more than $16.5 million in donations had been raised so far, but another $1.5 million was needed before construction could start.

MSU plans to loan up to $3 million to the project, which would be paid back from athletics revenues like ticket sales — not from state taxpayer or student funds, said Michael Becker, MSU spokesman.

MSU plans to build a two-story, 40,000-square-foot addition wrapped around the north end zone of Bobcat Stadium as the new home of Bobcat Football. The north end zone, the area closest to Kagy Boulevard, would be upgraded with bowl-style seating.

Football players would have their own weight rooms, training and rehabilitation areas, locker rooms and team lounge, while football staff would have new offices, plus an auditorium and lobby area. There would be space for health services for student-athletes, faculty and staff only.

Moving football, MSU’s biggest team, out of the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse would free up space in the fieldhouse for athletes in other sports for weight training, and more than 3,000 square feet of new studying and tutoring space.

“Students across every program are going to feel the effects,” Becker said.

This is the first phase of MSU’s 20-year master plan for improving athletic facilities, unveiled in 2017.

In a video pitch to donors, MSU President Waded Cruzado said then that she was excited about the plan.

“Quite simply, Bobcat athletics has outgrown their facilities,” Cruzado said. Student athletes today are “crammed together” and struggle to find time in the weight room, Cruzado said, adding it’s been 50 years since a major expansion or renovation of facilities for student athletes.

Football head coach Jeff Choate said MSU today has nearly 350 student athletes, who share a space built for maybe half that many in 1958. A “brand new, state-of-the-art facility,” Choate said, would be a “total game-changer” that would help football and recruiting.

Choate said team sports are the public’s window to the entire university, and the new facilities would show that MSU is committed to doing things in a first-class manner.

MSU is asking the regents’ formal approval now, though several items in the proposed lease and “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) agreement with the Alumni Foundation are still blank and labeled “to be determined.”

Once funding is in place, MSU plans to seek final approval from Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian. The agreements would go back to the regents if there were substantial changes.

Asked why MSU is seeking approval now, before all the money has been raised, Becker said the regents only meet every few months and the Alumni Foundation is close to its fundraising goal, so it seemed prudent to take the project to the regents’ July meeting.

So far, more than $6 million of the $16.5 million raised by the Alumni Foundation is cash in hand, while the rest is in the form of pledges, which can come in over five years, Becker said. The $6 million is growing daily as more gifts come in, he added.

The cost outline for the project provides for up to $810,000 in pledges that might be uncollectable.

Once the MOU is signed, the lease would be signed. Then the Alumni Foundation would negotiate a final contract with a general contractor-construction manager to build the Bobcat Athletic Complex.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2633. Follow her on Twitter @gailnews.