Regents OK lease for new lab facility on Montana State University land

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By Liz Weber, view story on

The Montana Board of Regents approved Montana State University’s request to lease land to build a facility that will house three labs. The building would include the Montana Department of Livestock’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, the Montana Department of Agriculture Analytical Laboratory and MSU’s Wool Lab.

The unanimous approval on Thursday was a revision to a November 2019 approval from the board that would allow a ground lease for a Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. At the time, the vet lab was in the process of obtaining funding for a new facility.

Since that agreement, the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab received legislative approval in 2021 of $26 million for a new facility. The Wool Lab — which analyzes wool, alpaca and other fiber samples from around the country — also received a $5 million allocation from the 2021 Legislature for a new building.

The updated authorization now includes MSU’s Wool Lab, which would take up around 17% of the building, or around 8,830 square feet, according to the agreement.

In the proposed ground lease — which will be between MSU and the state of Montana — the university will retain ownership of the land at the proposed site, southwest of the intersection of 19th Avenue and College Street.

When the university received funding for the Wool Lab conversations began on cost effectiveness, according to Janelle Booth, MSU’s government affairs director.

“We saw a benefit to making sure the Wool Lab that we received legislative funding for would be in the best position to maximize the funding,” Booth said.

The university wanted to be true to its land grant mission and the promise made to wool producers in the state in 1947 when the Wool Lab was first opened, according to Booth.

According to the agreement, MSU and the university system won’t be responsible for the cost of design, construction, site improvements, operations and maintenance costs of the building outside of the university’s Wool Lab.

“It will be a joint facility,” Booth said.

Booth said it was also a way for the university to honor an agreement that was already in place.

In 1960, MSU reached an agreement with the state to lease land at no-cost for a building that would be constructed and funded by the Legislature for the Department of Livestock.

The arrangement has remained in place since then. With the facility needing upgrades, discussions began in 2009 on what a new vet lab facility would look like, according to Booth.

Like the 1960 agreement, the initial ground lease will be at no-cost for the initial term of 20 years. The state will have the option to renew the agreement in ten-year increments. An additional agreement will outline the maintenance and operational cost breakdown between MSU and the state.

Planning and designing a new building are already underway with LPW Architecture selected, Booth said. She anticipated the design of the building would be 90% complete by the end of this year.

The building will need additional legislative support in the 2023 session to finish the facility, according to Booth. With the inflation of construction costs since the last session, the agencies will seek money to cover the cost difference. If approved, construction could begin in spring 2023.

The state will need the Board of Regents’ approval before initial construction can begin and will be subject to board policies regarding construction.

Like the initial 2019 agreement, the commitment is contingent on the Department of Agriculture leaving MSU’s McCall Hall.