When students return to campus in January, the Lommasson Center will likely cease to be the student-centered space it has been for decades, as roughly 150 staff members from Lommasson and buildings across campus move to former dorm Aber Hall.
Over winter break, UM plans to move a large number of student services staff into the first six floors of Aber in preparation to demolish the east end of the Lommasson Center and the north end of Craig Hall. While some amenities like the Food Zoo will remain open, the move is a major step forward in bringing a new dining facility to campus in the next few years.
Paula Short, the associate vice president for campus operations, preparedness and response, said between the new dining center and other upcoming projects, it’s an exciting time at the University.
“I would describe this as one of the most exciting and ambitious campus revitalization efforts, certainly in recent memory,” she said.
Significant work needs to be done prior to these changes taking place.
Aber’s first floor echoed with the pounding of hammers last Wednesday afternoon as construction workers placed steel framing and began hanging drywall. The wiring crisscrossing the rooms hung exposed.
Connor Stahly, the project manager for planning and construction, said the Aber work began on the sixth floor. The remodel’s additions include new paint, a kitchenette and flooring that started going in last Thursday. There will also be a gender neutral bathroom added to the floor.
The University of Montana’s Move Out plan includes relocations involving several buildings on campus, including Brantly Hall, the Gilkey building and Main Hall.
Services like Financial Aid will be moving to Aber’s fifth floor, while the first floor will house staff from the Office for Disability Equity.
The move will also see departments like Experiential Learning and Career Services become more centralized. The department’s staff from the Davidson Honors College basement and the Lommasson Center will move to Aber’s second floor.
For Dawn Barnhart, an assistant registrar, the move will be reminiscent of her time as a UM student.
“It’ll be a throwback for me,” she said. “Because when I was a student here, I lived in Jesse, Aber’s twin, on the sixth floor, so it’s a little bit like, oh, going back to my beginnings.”
The Office of the Registrar will be on the sixth floor of Aber, with an open office space on the north side of the building with views of Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Six dorm rooms and their walls used to make up the space.
Barnhart said she’s excited for the social element of moving into a building with departments the Office of the Registrar has not been with previously. She said this could increase collaboration.
Barnhart said the move is also “overwhelming” on top of day-to-day duties.
She said the department usually has flexibility on posting grades to transcripts, but not this year because it moves soon after the semester ends. The department is set to have its technology moved on Dec. 23 and furniture on Dec. 27.
She said the priorities will be posting final grades and graduating students for Fall 2021.
Barnhart said she has heard more complaints and concerns from those in Lommasson than excitement over the move. Her guess is that the concerns are due to the move being added to the normal workload and the uncertainty of it all.
She said UM has a history of being very collaborative, citing as examples the student and faculty senates, but there was less collaboration with the decision to go to Aber.
“I don’t know that there was that much discussion here, and I don’t know why,” Barnhart said. “Maybe that was the only option.”
Stahly said some staff in Lommasson are likely frustrated by the move, but he believes it will end up being well-received.
“So I know there’s going to be growing pains, but I really think everyone’s going to really enjoy it,” he said.
The move is a small part of the future construction projects at the University. Plans also include the new dining facility and a remodel of Knowles Hall.
Jameel Chaudhry, the associate director of planning, design and construction, said this is the first time in his more than two decades at UM that a major building will be demolished.
He said the Lommasson Center has a history of maintenance problems and stood through a series of remodels. The middle of the building was built in the 1950s.
Chaudhry said the current dining hall functions, but everyone knows it’s not a fine facility.
“You can, again, only make an old building so good unless you’re willing to pump a ton of money into it, and I don’t think [the] administration wanted to go that route,” he said.
Stahly said it’s too early to set a hard date on when the east end of the Lommasson and north end of Craig Hall will be demolished to make room for the new dining hall.
Chaudhry said the new dining hall should be open by 2024, unless there are delays from supply chain issues.