University Relations and Communications

Construction project merges the best of two worlds for MSU Billings students

July 6, 2012



Jeannie McIsaac-Tracy, Student Life and Auxiliary Services, 657-1697
Ben Barckholtz, Academic Support Services, 657-1714
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


Remodeling of SUB is first major upgrade since the 1980s


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — It might be steel framing, Sheetrock and conduit right now, but when Ben Barckholtz and Jeannie McIsaac-Tracy stand in the middle of the first floor of the Student Union Building at Montana State University Billings, they see something different.


Jeannie and Ben in the SUBBarckholtz sees collaborative learning. He sees new connections between students and tutors. He sees an inviting place for commuter students to relax between classes.

McIsaac-Tracy sees energized students. She sees more organizations taking advantage of a central gathering point at the university campus. She, too, sees an inviting place for a demographic that traditionally steers clear of the building.


Their collective vision is taking shape thanks to remodeling project at MSU Billings this summer. The main floor of the SUB is being renovated to incorporate academic support and tutoring space with a new campus store and coffee shop area.  It’s a $3.9 million project designed to update the look and feel of the SUB, make the mechanical systems more efficient and provide a warm and welcome place for students who need academic support and tutoring. 


For Barckholtz, who is the director of the Academic Support Center at MSU Billings, the real benefit will be merging the best of two worlds into one place.


The single-story ASC, which is at least 50 years old, was once the SUB. The center now is home to developmental math and writing classes to prepare students for college-level work as well as free tutoring in math, writing, reading, science and foreign languages. The facility provided more than 18,000 hours of tutoring and developmental education last academic year.


Aside from that — and equally as important —the ASC is often a gathering place for hundreds of commuter students who seek a comfortable place to study, check e-mail or check in with a tutor between classes. On average, at least 300 individual students visit the center each week, with many coming back multiple times, he said. Even though the building was well-used by many commuter students, the well-worn structure wasn’t viewed as an appealing place to hang out for the students who live in the residence halls.


The SUB, meanwhile, has an open and inviting atmosphere where residence hall students, student-led organizations, caffeine seekers and student government leaders gather. But the SUB wasn’t attracting the off-campus students, who have long had a culture of arriving on campus to attend class, leave for a break and then return for the next class.


“The best thing about this project is that it’s a combination of cultures,” Barckholtz said. “By taking those communities and bridging them together, it creates something new and exciting.”


The construction project will make use of what was once the ballroom at the SUB as well as the former Jackets & Company store and walkways. It will make more efficient use of the space that has not been remodeled since the mid-1980s, said McIsaac-Tracy, director of Student Life and Auxiliary Services.


The legwork for the project started more than a year ago when McIsaac-Tracy and others did a variety of surveys to gauge what students wanted in a remodeled SUB. They said they wanted an updated look, access to a copy center and a new coffee shop.

“We made sure this project addressed those and other concerns the students brought to us,” she said.


As a result, the new facility will have an expanded coffee shop just outside of the new ASC and the campus store will be a bit larger with a more modern look, she said. A convenience store area will include a copy center as well as grab-and-go meal items and the cafeteria, managed by Sodexo, will open continuously from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.


“We think the coffee shop is a good move because it’s a place where students hang out,” McIsaac-Tracy said.


Stingers coffee shop has been dismantled to make way for a new, updated café named Stingers Bistro, which will offer a more extensive menu with tables and chairs for students to eat, study or mingle. 


A&E Architects is doing the architectural work for the project and Hardy Construction is doing the contractor work. Mitch Thompson Interiors is doing the interior design of the new campus store.


The project cost includes about $1.5 million for mechanical upgrades, including a more energy-efficient heating and cooling system. About a third of the funding is coming from one-time money from MSU Billings’ larger student enrollment over the past few years. Other funding will come from revenue from the campus store and coffee shop.


There will be flexible space that can be used for small classes or student organizational meetings as well as community gatherings.

“The fact that all this space is being integrated for academic use as well as for student life is pretty cool,” Barckholtz said.


The SUB reconstruction is on schedule, McIsaac-Tracy said, and should be ready for student use when classes begin in September.


PHOTO ABOVE: Jeannie McIsaac-Tracy, left, and Ben Barckholtz stand where some of the Academic Support Center will be housed once the MSU Billings Student Union remodeling work is completed this fall.