“Northwest College should see a new building here in a year or two,” said Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee. “There’s no question it should be a go.”
Peterson said the building proposal was among the top of the list of college construction projects recommended for funding by Gov. Matt Mead, and the Joint Appropriations Committee approved it as well.
“With those two blessings, I don’t think it’s going to have any problems getting approved by the Legislature,” he said.
Rep. Dave Bonner, R-Powell, said he also has high hopes that the new building — the Yellowstone Academic and Workforce Training Building — will win approval from the Legislature.
Bonner, who also is publisher of the Powell Tribune, noted that the governor and the JAC recommended $9.5 million in funding for the approximately $14 million, 49,500 square-foot building project.
Because the funding formula for capital construction projects requires colleges to contribute the equivalent of six mills toward the cost of building projects, Northwest would be responsible for raising the other $4 million to $5 million.
The NWC Board of Trustees has begun considering ways to raise the money in the event the project is approved for state funding.
“I will work hard to keep that general fund appropriation intact,” Bonner said, “and I know the other Big Horn Basin legislators will be supportive.
“That is one of the positive outcomes of redistricting work this year,” he said. “Big Horn Basin legislators worked closely together to arrive at a BHB redistricting plan and pledged to support common causes.”
Peterson said he is working on a proposal for simplifying the way college capital construction projects are proposed and funded.
He said there should be two categories for funding building projects. One of those would require a match, and projects in that category would be approved based on which colleges are next in line for funding.
“If Powell (Northwest College) got theirs this year, they would move down to the bottom of the list” for funding next year, he said.
The Legislature could decide how much the colleges would be required to contribute to those projects, Peterson said.
The other category would fund smaller projects at colleges without requiring a match in funding, capping those projects at a set amount, perhaps $5 million each.
Peterson noted that larger colleges in more populous areas of the state have more resources for raising money to match state funding. Using two categories, with colleges taking turns, would put larger and smaller colleges on more even footing for state capital construction funding, he said.
If funding isn’t available in a given year, projects up for consideration would remain at the top of each list for the following year.
“It would give me the ability to say to Paul Prestwich, ‘Yes, your project is next on the list, but there is no funding this year,’” he said.
Some consideration also should be given for growth at the colleges, he said.
Peterson said his two-category funding proposal would provide legislative oversight while still allowing college trustees and administrators to prioritize building projects based on their visions for the colleges and on needs at each college.
“Right now, (the capital construction funding system) is an exercise in frustration to college trustees and presidents,” he said. “We have them on strings like puppets, and we jerk them around...
“We can’t explain, ‘Yes, you’re first on the list, but our priorities have changed, and we’re building riding arenas now.’ College trustees are scratching their heads, presidents are scratching their heads, legislators are scratching their heads, and the governor is scratching his head.”
Peterson said he plans to introduce his proposal during this session of the Legislature.