2016: Star staff picks top stories

(Editor’s Note: The Miles City Star news staff voted for the Top 10 stories in Miles City in 2016. Summaries of numbers 6-10 are below. Summaries of stories 1-5 will be published in Friday’s newspaper.)

6. Ag Advancement Center


For the past four years Miles Community College (MCC) has been working toward building an Ag Advancement Center for their Ag and Equine programs. On Aug. 4 MCC was able to break ground at the future location for the building.

The center is being constructed on the West End Campus near the Eastern Montana Fair fairgrounds.

The 36,000-square foot building will include classrooms, faculty offices, an apartment, a foyer area, seating for around 500 and a multipurpose space to be used for training and enrollment in the Agriculture and Equine Studies programs. The foyer will house the Bucking Horse Sale Wall of Fame.

The apartment will house a facilitator who will live in and monitor the building, and help plan events among other tasks.

In April the college passed the $2 million mark in donations for construction. Donations came from 75 people, foundations and organizations.

Then on July 25 the MCC Board of Trustees voted to spend $470,000 of current fee-generated money and borrow another $480,00 from the Montana Board of Investments in order to provide more funding for the project. The total construction cost of the center is $3.4 million. 

The building was ordered on June 22 and arrived on Aug. 15.  It is on schedule to be completed by March 17.

7. Colstrip Power Plant

Dark clouds are hanging over the coal-mining town of Colstrip, where the partial decommissioning of the Colstrip Power Plant was announced this year.

The community faces the loss of more than 100 jobs at the power plant, where two of four electric generating units are slated to close in 2022. Additional jobs will be lost at the nearby Rosebud Mine, which supplies coal exclusively to the power plant.

The partial closure stems from a settlement between the six utilities that own the power plant, and environmental groups that filed suit due to concerns about pollutants and greenhouse gases emitted by burning coal.

While the environment may benefit, Colstrip and the surrounding area in Rosebud County certainly will not.

Roughly 30 percent of the workforce at both the power plant and the mine will lose their jobs when Units 1 and 2 — which opened in 1974 and 1976 respectively — are shuttered.

According to the Colstrip-based Southeastern Montana Development Corporation, West Energy’s Rosebud Mine employs 403 with a $31 million payroll. The power plant has 370 workers and dispenses about $52 million per year in compensation.

Total direct job losses could be 200 or more combined between the power plant and the mine, and additional losses could result as the impact of the lost payroll ripples across the region’s economy.

8. Livestock Pavilion 

FFA and 4-H members of Custer and nearby counties were among the primary donors to build a new, $350,000 livestock pavilion to replace the old sheep, hog and horse barns at the Eastern Montana Fairgrounds in Miles City. Fundraising began in the summer of 2015, and the pavilion debuted at the 2016 Eastern Montana Fair.

Those small, dark barns suffered not just from age but from being in a low spot on the fairgrounds, which caused water to puddle in the barns.

As soon as fundraising started for the new 100-by-200 foot steel pavilion, the first order of business was raising the foundation above the level of the rest of the fairgrounds.

No longer a traditional barn, the open pavilion is a roof supported by steel pillars. There are no interior walls — only portable fencing that can be re-arranged as needed.

For the Eastern Montana Fair, individual pens were created for 4-H and FFA entries. For the Ram and Ewe Sale, passages were put together to help drive sheep to and from the sale ring in the Argi-Sports Building.

Ag-related businesses, other area businesses, ranchers and show attendees donated as well. There were 135 donors large and small, from individuals to large companies, according to the Custer County Extension Office.

In addition, the project received a grant from the Montana Department of Tourism Development.

9. MCC Armory

Miles Community College (MCC) worked for almost a year to buy the old National Guard Armory on Main Street to house the school’s heavy equipment operations and commercial drivers license (CDL) program. 

In Jan. 2015 the college obtained enough money to purchase the building and the closing paperwork was signed in March, 2016.

The college was able to purchase the building with the help of several grants and donations. The funding sources included a $650,000 Community Development Block Grant, a $50,000 state coal board grant and $100,000 in workforce development funding. The project cost over $1 million. 

MCC has been working with Stevenson Design to make the changes necessary to use the building. Before any bids are accepted the college must remove asbestos and other hazardous material.

The lighting, heating, cooling and ventilation systems will be improved. The windows will also be replaced, and several classrooms will be added to the ground floor. Fresh paint, and improvements to ceilings and floors, are also planned.

The outside of the armory will also receive a facelift. Attractive landscaping is planned to help keep water away from the building.

Bids were opened Dec. 21, and Stevenson Design is working with the contractor to confirm a contract, start date and end date. No estimated completion date has been set.

The new building will provide more space for the programs to expand, college officials said.

10. Ryno Bandshell

With the stage floor poured and support pillars up, a construction crew started giving the new Ryno Bandshell in Riverside Park in Miles City its shape on June 16.

The bandshell, a project of Milestown Community Improvement Incorporated (MCII), was completed at a cost of about $180,000 in September.

MCII President Brandon Janshen explained the nickname for the new bandshell. It was named after the late Ryan Watts, a huge supporter of MCII and the bandshell project. Watts, who died in 2015, was nicknamed Ryno.

The contractor — Board by Board Construction — also sided and painted the bandshell. 

As soon as the 1,200-square foot building was completed it was opened to public use. Made of steel columns with a concrete foundation, the wood-framed enclosure also has a wood-framed roof. The facility has a stage, a back staging area and two rooms — one for electrical and storage, and a second for a dressing room.

MCII dedicated the bandshell to the city on Sept. 27. The city will maintain the bandshell, and take reservations for its use.

Janshen and MCII Vice President John Goff said they hope the bandshell will bring many events to the community, and be used by many generations to come.

The shell was paid for with proceeds from MCII’s sales of black Montana license plates. By purchasing a black license plate, each car owner donates $20 a year to MCII for community projects.