Building Higher Ed

Pioneering leadership, deep community support and vigorous fundraising are catapulting FVCC to ambitious heights

By Andy Viano
College Center rendering. - Courtesy of Flathead Valley Community College

Flathead Valley Community College spent 2017 reflecting on the past 50 years. It’s spent 2018 preparing for the next 50.

Behind an ambitious fundraising program and a bold vision for the future, FVCC is in the midst of a radical step in its evolution from a humble commuter school to something markedly different: A place where the community can gather for major events, where students can have nearly every need met without stepping foot outside the campus and where the future leaders of Kalispell can grow without leaving home.

“I do think this is going to be, in 10 years, one of the best community colleges in the nation,” Colleen Unterreiner, the executive director of the FVCC foundation, said. “We have the right people in this valley, we have the right kind of donors, people that believe in education, that want to get people trained and a better economy here, so I can’t imagine it’s not going to be quite a college here when all of this is said and done.”

Construction at Flathead Valley Community College on Sept. 18, 2018. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Unterreiner has worked at FVCC for 15 years, 10 in her current position, and in that time she’s seen plenty of change and had oversight of a number of fundraising initiatives, but nothing has ever approached the scope of the ONE campaign, which was announced in January of this year. The campaign’s stated goal was to raise $18 million to finance a pair of large construction projects, making it by far the largest private fundraising push in the school’s history. The objective was to raise the funds to make two major additions to the campus, a 12,000-square-foot Library and Learning Commons and 50,000-square-foot College Center.

Just nine months later, thanks in large part to five different contributions of at least $1 million, the ONE campaign has already raised $16 million from approximately 350 total donors, and administrators expect the campaign to be successfully completed before the end of 2018, an almost unbelievable scenario for those behind the initiative.

“I think it’s where we dreamed of being,” said Justin Sliter, chairman of the board for the FVCC Foundation and the co-chair, with his wife Jennifer, of the ONE Campaign. “It seemed like a lofty goal when we originally set out, and (FVCC President) Jane (Karas) and I looked at each other and said, ‘How are we going to do this?’”

The campaign received an immediate boost when the Broussard family gave a lead gift of $2.5 million toward the library in January. That building, which is currently under construction and scheduled for completion in the spring of 2019, is an addition to the Rebecca Chaney Broussard Center for Nursing and Health, opened in 2013. The nursing center, prior to the current campaign, had been the only privately financed building the school had ever built.

And while the Broussards have long been generous benefactors of the college, what came next was a more surprising development. Four more major contributions followed — $4 million from Paul Wachholz in March, $2 million from Al and Lisa Stinson later that same month, $2.5 million from an anonymous donor in July and another $1 million from Jim and Wanda Hollensteiner last week — and a total of 85 new benefactors (nearly 25 percent of total donors) have contributed to the school for the first time.

Paul Wachholz looks on during a brief ceremony at Flathead Valley Community College celebrating a $1 million donation from Jim and Wanda Hollensteiner on Sept. 18, 2018. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

“I never would have imagined that we could have done what we did, and I’m so humbled by this community,” Unterreiner said. “Maybe it’s the right project at the right time in the right place in the college’s history. I think our last year, the 50th, gave us a lot of exposure … That was a nice lead-in.”

Both new buildings are designed to serve FVCC’s ever-growing student population — 2,374 students are enrolled in courses in the fall 2018 semester, a 4.5 percent increase over last year — but the College Center in particular plans to be much more than that. FVCC had already announced that the Glacier Symphony will make its permanent home in the new building, likely to open in 2020, and the donation from the Hollensteiners will help fund an art gallery to display student work and host other exhibitions. The College Center also includes a large performance hall, two full-sized basketball courts, an outdoor amphitheater and more, all of which administrators believe will be heavily utilized by both students and local residents.

“The result of the two new buildings is really to provide endless possibilities and endless opportunities to our community,” Karas said. “The college collaborates with a number of different organizations and groups in the Flathead Valley and Northwest Montana to continue to provide access to education, to culture, to workforce training, and I think many of these buildings will provide the opportunity to do more things.”

While no specific usage agreements other than the one with the Glacier Symphony have been worked out, administrators anticipate bringing in a variety of different concerts, more prominent guest speakers and lecturers, youth sports programs and, potentially, the return of intercollegiate athletics to the school.

“(The building) will obviously have a great impact on the students and faculty of the college, but the reason that Jennifer and I wanted to be involved in this is we truly see an opportunity to continue the great partnership between the college and the Flathead Valley,” Sliter said. “There’s a great deal of opportunity for economic development through this project as well.”

“Everybody’s been very responsive to the community piece,” Unterreiner added. “We will have an opportunity for more things to come to the Flathead Valley. It’s good for the economy, good for hotels and restaurants, all those kids of places. I think that has resonated strongly with (donors).”

As for the impact on students, the new growth in some ways goes hand-in-hand with the opening of Founders Hall, the school’s first on-campus housing, in 2017. This fall, 122 students are living in Founders Hall (just two students below capacity), and the energy that comes from a day-and-night campus community is a far cry from the primarily commuter campus Karas walked into 20 years ago.

“For a long time our students have been looking for a multi-purpose activities center, all of the different activities we can provide for our students,” she said. “We’ll be able to do it in a much better way and continue to grow those opportunities for students.”

Construction at Flathead Valley Community College on Sept. 18, 2018. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

The new opportunities have also started to reshape the mix of students on campus from one that was heavily slanted toward nontraditional students — typically older adults either re-training for a new skill or returning to college after years away — to a more traditionally college-aged population. However, Unterreiner and Sliter were careful to note that the school will continue to be just as committed to its non-traditional students.

“FVCC has done a great job of looking to the Flathead Valley and trying to fill needs,” Sliter said. “During the first construction boom, we had a construction trades program that was training people to go out and work for the contractors that were really struggling to find people. We had a boom in rifle manufacturing and we created a gunsmithing program. Now there’s a boom in breweries and we have the only licensed brewing school in the United States. Jane’s done an outstanding job of looking to the valley, finding the need and then filling that void.”

“I think we’ve always been really, really strong in nontraditional students, and that has to stay really strong,” Unterreiner said. “But I think as college got more expensive for people, we could see that there was a potential there to have more traditional-aged students on campus.”

The ONE campaign is still $2 million from reaching its goal, and construction is not anticipated to begin on the College Center until all of that money is raised. The foundation’s current push is called Be Seated and offers donors a chance to permanently name a seat in the new performance venue for $5,000. Unterreiner speculated that by the time the ONE campaign is completed, around 500 total donors will have chipped in to shape the future of the school and the community.

To learn more about the ONE campaign or to make a contribution, visit www.fvcc.edu/one.


Naming Gifts of $1 Million or More

*Note: official facility naming titles will be announced at a later date

1. January 2018: $2.5 million gift from the Broussard family for the Library and Learning Commons

2. February 2018: $4 million gift from Paul Wachholz for the College Center

3. March 2018: $2 million gift from the Stinson Family Foundation for the College Center

4. July 2018: $2.5 million gift from an anonymous donor to recognize the life and legacy of FVCC Founder Bill McClaren for the College Center

5. September 2018: $1 million gift from Jim and Wanda Hollensteiner for the College Center


Campaign Milestones

• January 2018: FVCC ONE Campaign launch date

• May 21, 2018: groundbreaking ceremony for the new Library & Learning Commons

• Spring 2019: Anticipated opening of the Library & Learning Commons

• Spring 2019: Anticipated groundbreaking of the College Center

• Fall 2020: Anticipated opening of the College Center


Campaign Goals

Total: $18 million ($16 million raised to date)

Library and Learning Commons: $3 million (fundraising complete)

College Center: $15 million (approximately $13 million raised to date)


Main Components of College Center

• 50,000 square feet total

• Performance and Lecture Hall — to accommodate exceptional educational, musical and theatrical programming

  • -performance home of the Glacier Symphony
  • -750-800 seats
  • -superb acoustics
  • -rehearsal space, classroom, practice rooms
  • -green room
  • -box office

• Wanda Hollensteiner Gallery — to feature local, regional and national works of art and provide space for student exhibits

  • -art and exhibition gallery
  • -reception hall

• Outdoor Amphitheater

• Multi-Purpose Activity Center — to meet the demand for student and community recreational opportunities, support health and wellness goals of the campus and community partners, and provide space for large campus and community events

  • -two basketball courts
  • -indoor track, fitness space, locker rooms
  • -catering kitchen


Main Components of Library and Learning Commons

• 12,000 square feet total

• Quiet study areas

• Student area for the social learner

• Collaborative study areas

• Virtual reality lab

• Writing lab

• Classrooms

• Maker lab


Community Support for the ONE Campaign

*Note: numbers are as of Sept. 20

• 350 individual donors to the ONE Campaign to date

• 90 individual donors have contributed $5,000 or more to the ONE Campaign

• 85 first-time donors to the FVCC Foundation through the ONE Campaign

• 102 FVCC employees have donated to the ONE Campaign

• 100 percent of the FVCC Board of Trustees, the FVCC Foundation Board and the Glacier Symphony Board have committed or donated to the ONE Campaign

• Donors from every community in Northwest Montana have committed


FVCC Programs Benefitting from the ONE Campaign Projects

• Intramurals

• Honors Program

• Residents Life

• FVCC Music/Glacier Symphony

• Art

• Theater

• Culinary

• Early Childhood Program

• Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Colloquiums and Lectures

• Lectures including the Mansfield Lecture and Honors Symposium

• Job Fair, Maker Faire, Conferences, Continuing Education, Graduation

• Foundation events

• Local, regional, national and international partnerships for exhibits, shows, performances, lectures, and activities in education, music, theatre, art, recreation, sports and medicine

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