The Dream of a Bigger CMU Montrose Gains Momentum
MONTROSE – Imagine downtown Montrose filled with college students who live and attend classes nearby.
That vision of Montrose as Colorado’s next college town is gaining traction as officials at Colorado Mesa University work with local governments to envision a bigger Montrose campus integrated into the fabric of the city near CMU Montrose’s current location.
Following the completed renovation of the CMU’s campus building at 234 S. Cascade Ave. last fall, with funding from the university, the City of Montrose, Montrose County and a generous donation from Jim and Sharen Branscome, university officials and community leaders are poised to begin the master planning for an expanded campus in downtown Montrose. It could evolve into a campus that will not only provide higher education opportunities to students living in the region, but could draw students from around the state and country.
“This idea has really started to take hold,” said David Reed, chairman of the CMU Montrose Advisory Council. “The community has gotten excited about it now. We have finally, over the last couple of years, made a long-term community commitment to a downtown campus.”
A big part of that community commitment, Reed said, is a willingness on the part of the university, the City of Montrose and Montrose County to provide funding for initiating the process of expanding the campus in Montrose. This year, the City of Montrose committed $50,000 annually to the school’s expansion fund, CMU plans to match that funding, and
Montrose County dedicated matching scholarship funds to enable more students to attend the school, beginning last year, which was a critical starting point for the overall campus expansion.
Leaders in the community and at the university all agree that the momentum is building. How the school might expand from a one-building campus with a capacity of 700-800 students to multi-building university-like campus that could serve up to 3,000 students sometime in the next five, 10 or 15 years is the question.
“There is momentum, and momentum is huge,” said CMU President Tim Foster. “You can see the community is embracing a common vision.”
A Community/University Partnership
Inside the newly renovated campus building last week, Joey Montoya Boese, the director of CMU’s Montrose, said the first step and “short-term” strategy in moving toward an expanded Montrose campus is to first utilize its current facility to its fullest capacity.
This is where the county’s $50,000 contribution toward the scholarship endowment (with matching CMU funding) will make a difference in helping to bring current enrollment to capacity. Meanwhile the city’s contributions to the property acquisition fund, along with funding from CMU, will begin add up, opening the doors for future property acquisitions for an expanded campus in downtown Montrose.
“We will begin working with the city and county, and regional leadership, on how we can create an expanded educational niche,” Montoya Boese said. “How do we become a campus to attract folks from the outside? The process of master planning will begin, and conversations with the city, county, the Downtown Development Authority, hospital and recreation district will begin, on how do we grow.”
Both Montoya Boese and Foster emphasized that building an expanded Montrose campus will only work if it benefits both the university and the Montrose community.
“In this region, sharing and collaborating is critical,” Foster said. “If you can do things together and work together, you can augment what it is you are trying to do. If everybody throws in on it, then you could have something you wouldn’t otherwise have.”
An example of this type of collaboration is the Montrose Regional Library, which is shared by both local residents and students attending CMU. Foster said an expanded CMU campus should offer plenty of similar opportunities, whereby the community and students will get something they may not have had without the partnership.
“Being attached to the library is huge for us,” Foster said. “That shared library is a great deal for everybody, and we need to find partnerships in those sorts of things. We will try to create as many opportunities as we can to include as many leveraging concepts as we can.
“If we want to attract students, we are going to need housing,” he said. “The private sector can do that. We will need food service, and we will have to figure that one out. There will be a need for some sort of student center and some sort of rec center. There will be a need for some additional classroom space. We are getting into some fairly expensive items, and we need to find partners on those sorts of things.”
Foster also emphasized the importance of creating a partnerships with community entities. CMU’s main campus in Grand Junction has grown exponentially over the past 15 years, and that growth could not have happened without a visionary collaboration with the City of Grand Junction.
“Fifteen years ago, it was a very small, narrow campus that was constraining the growth of learning opportunities here,” he said. “After a lot of debate on how to do it, the City of Grand Junction started giving money to buy properties to build academic buildings. Since then, the campus has doubled in size and now has a great synergy.”
Moving forward with the Montrose campus, Foster said, the consensus to keep the campus in downtown is “right.” Foster said he is something of a student of the late campus designer Cabell “Cab” Childress. Childress, Foster said, knew how to locate and design a campus that would become that particular city or region’s focal point.
“He was like Yoda when it came to campuses,” Foster said. “The things he would say were like, ‘If you think of a college campus, it’s a village in the middle of a city that provides everything a city provides. We do food, entertainment, education public safety, recreation, theater, you name it and you can do it right here.
“You want it to be one of the crown jewels of the community. What you don’t want to do is create a blighted area somewhere out of town. Having it in downtown is perfect.”
Just how and where the CMU campus will expand into downtown Montrose remains to be seen. In preliminary master planning, Foster said the direction envisioned is an expansion from the current building to the south and to the east. And if attracting students to the campus is a priority, Foster said that a recreation center, perhaps shared by the school and the community, would be one of the first infrastructure projects to put in place.
“The big domino is a rec center,” Foster said. “If we can get a rec center in the next five years, that will be a huge development that would accelerate things here. It would fill a need for prospective students. The university and the community could share the costs of doing that.”
Besides physically expanding into the downtown area, Foster said the university must also begin planning what type of learning opportunities and programs it would provide in an expanded environment, and that it should play to assets Montrose already has.
An Expanded Educational Hub for the Region
With CMU’s renovated building and its ongoing partnership with the Montrose Memorial Hospital, Montoya Boese said the current nursing program has been able to fulfill an important role in the community for students seeking a job in the medical community.
“We hope to continue to asses the different needs, not only for the healthcare community, but for business and education as well,” she said. “We know that Montrose does tend to be the hub of our region, and we intend for it to be a regional educational hub with a focus on the four counties in our region, including Montrose, Delta, Ouray and San Miguel counties.”
Other possible programs that may fit well into the region are sustainable agriculture and hospitality services.
“We will be looking at other sectors within our community to increase the education attainment level: What can we as an institution do to support our local economy and local business needs?” Montoya Boese said. “We always need teachers, because education is our future. We have many small businesses in our hub; how can we continue to support small businesses?”
Scott Shine, executive director of the DDA, believes that having an expanded campus in the downtown core will enhance business opportunities in the area, bringing with it a re-energized atmosphere, as well.
“It is something we are definitely in support of, and we are working with Colorado Mesa to help envision what it would look like in our community,” Shine said. “Having more students and young people coming downtown to go to class and wanting to go out for lunch and dinner and entertainment will create a great synergy and a thriving downtown district.”
Commissioner David White agrees that the potential is exciting.
“There is so much potential here; it really is exciting to see what can happen,” White said. “I am glad Tim Foster has put the amount of effort into this campus that he has. I think everybody is being realistic in knowing and understanding that it does take time to put a project of this scope together. Higher education is one of the most critical components of an educational base, and for that reason, I continue to see the county involved to whatever degree possible to see CMU grow here in Montrose.”
For more information on the programs CMU currently provides in Montrose, visit coloradomesa.edu/montrose/.