The Montana State Senate has put construction of a new Missoula College back on track. Senators passed the $29 million project in a third reading vote Tuesday afternoon.
The controversial plan to build on the University of Montana's golf course now goes back to the House.
Supporters said it is necessary to ease overcrowding in a growing school.
UM said building on its south campus will give Missoula students better access to the main campus. Others said it will sacrifice a recreational area and the open space it provides.
Lewis Schneller took up golf 11 years ago, and discovered he loved hitting golf balls. He has worked hard to protect the UM course from development.
He said building Missoula College on the course would erase open space for hang gliders, cross country runners, and skiers, snow sledders, hikers and golfers.
"We're eating up all the ground," said Schneller.
"Once the ground is dug into to build on it's gone," said the golfer, "it will never be open space again."
Nina Nemoff is a Missoula College student and a Hellgate High graduate who ran cross country and even played golf at the University course. But she supports plans to convert it to a Missoula College campus.
"Especially for all the medical programs we have here," said Nemoff. "But it is kind of sad."
Her study partner Patricia Forgays said building on the south campus would give Missoula Collelge students the connection they need for a full UM education.
"It is Missoula College of the Univeristy of Montana," said Forgays.
John Galli is also a student. He said the college needs to be near the main campus. But he doesn't necessarily think it should be built on the golf course.
Study partners Wendy Simpson and Arthur Weatherwax have different opinions.
I think it should go where it was originally intended," said Simpson, "and that's the golf course."
But Weatherwax disagrees. "We should utilize the buildings we already have," he said. "They're being abandoned and we should utilize that for space."
Other critics said there should not be any building on the University's south campus until there's been a full environmental impact statement.
Tuesday afternoon we also spoke with officials at U M about the multi-million dollar project. If passed the University would have to come up with $3 million in private matching funds.
Officials tell us they would hope to cover that cost through private donations and grants, and they say the need for a new Missoula College is too large to ignore.
UM Communications Director Peggy Kuhr says they saw a large increase in enrollment at the college when the economy tanked in 2008.
“With the Missoula College when the economy really was struggling, enrollment went up and that seems opposite from what you might expect but people start looking for workforce training, people who are laid off go back to school and people might seek a degree,” said Kuhr.
NBC Montana will continue to follow this story and bring you the details as we learn more.