March 1-3, 2006

ITEM 130-111-R0306   Exploration of Options for Re-Locating the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education


THAT  The Board of Regents of Higher Education authorizes and directs the Commissioner of Higher Education to explore, through publication of a general request for proposals, options for re-locating the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education and the Montana Guaranteed Student Loan Program to another appropriate city in Montana.


EXPLANATION:   For the past 15 years, the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE) has been located in the Student Assistance Foundation Building near St. Peter's Hospital in Helena.  In December of 2004, pursuant to the lease terms, SAF terminated its lease with OCHE due to the expansion of SAF staff and its need for the space in the SAF building.

At that time, OCHE reviewed its options for building space and was unable to locate a building suitable for OCHE (with its 45 staff members) and the Guaranteed Student Loan Program (GSL), with its 50 employees.  In October of 2005, OCHE moved, separating from GSL, to what was expected to be temporary quarters in the New York Building on Last Chance Gulch.  At that time a plan was in place for OCHE and GSL to be located in a building to be built by the University of Montana on the campus of the UM-College of Technology in Helena.

As part of the process of preparing for the construction on the new building, OCHE's architects applied for a variance.  Such a variance is not required under state law but was applied for as a courtesy to the city commission and public.  Following the Helena City Commission's vote against allowing for a variance, the Board of Regents and OCHE should consider additional options for a permanent home for OCHE and GSL, including re-locating these offices to some other city in Montana.