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A look back one year later after MSU gym collapses

March 7 marked one year since MSU gym collapse
Posted at 1:34 PM, Mar 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-08 15:34:25-04

BOZEMAN — In the midst of a string of roof collapses back in 2019, Saturday marked one full year since the first of two gyms collapsed under record snowfall at Montana State University.

Before the morning of March 7, 2019, a walk across the lot that now stands next to the Marga-Hoseaus Fitness Center would have meant a stroll across the wooden gymnasium floor of MSU's South Gym.

Two days after it collapsed, the roof of the North Gym followed.

When you look around, scars still exist, from chain link fence blocking the area where the North Gym once stood to the fitness center pool remaining closed.

But there are also signs of moving forward.

“For me and everyone else, no way," says Rob Maher, MSU professor of electrical and computer engineering. "I mean, nobody thought that this was a likelihood at all.”

The first bang happened around 2:20 a.m. on March 7.

Under heavy snow, the South Gym’s roof was reduced to rubble, hours after the last students left.

“This is, like, 100 percent of my day," said Stephanie Stanger on that Thursday morning as she looked at the South Gym's wreckage. "I’ll go. I’ll study there.”

The second bang was only two days later.

Both gyms were connected to the Upper Gym, demolished due to what MSU officials said was a similar threat of collapse.

“MSU is immensely grateful that we had no injuries from this event," MSU News Service Director Michael Becker said at the time.

“The fact that it happened in the middle of the night and there were no things going on, no custodial staff, was really, really fortunate," Maher says.

Maher watched the process nearly every day.

“Before the collapses, I’m in there pretty much everyday using the locker room and the facilities and things like that," he says. "It’s a real part of the campus community."

From the parking garage, Maher put together a photo time lapse, revealing a transformation that left nearly 63,000 square feet of gym space to replace.

“Immediately the question was, 'Are we going to be able to get back in a few days or in a few weeks?'," Maher says. "It ended up being months.”

One year has passed since MSU gym roof collapsed

Since then, last October, the North and South Domes -- two pop-up temporary gyms -- filled the gap.

But the collapse left the Marga-Hoseaus Fitness Center closed for months.

“These facilities are in great demand, and so it’s been complicated not to have them available," Maher says.

Fast-forward to today, while vandalism has left one dome temporarily closed, the domes continue to stand.

And a proposal now awaits final approval from the board of regents, allowing MSU to spend $2.5 million on developing a plan for a new wellness center to rise where the old gyms once stood.

“I really admired the way the university handled this, with the communications staff immediately getting out in front, explaining what was happening because everybody had questions," Maher says. "Nobody had ever dealt with this before.”

An unprecedented catastrophe that left scars — but left more signs of a campus moving forward.

“The community has kind of come together and said, okay, well, we are going to make some lemonade out of these lemons and do the best that we can," Maher says.

MSU officials say the final construction project, building this wellness center and taking down the pop-up domes, will take years and will likely cost more than $30 million.

To this day, the pool remains closed as crews work to strengthen the roof over it.