Flathead Valley Community College explores expansion of Libby campus

| August 11, 2020 8:29 AM

Officials with Flathead Valley Community College are exploring possible grant funding to overhaul and expand the Libby campus.

The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners endorsed the effort during an Aug. 5 meeting. Still in the early stages, the proposal could see the Libby campus expanded to include every occupational training program offered by the Kalispell-based community college.

“Right now, the option is to drive back and forth [from Kalispell] or leave the community and right now people aren’t really enrolling,” Megan Rayome, program director at the Lincoln County Campus, told commissioners.

Were officials with the community college to pursue and win the grant, which would come from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, the roughly $500,000 would be split between Kalispell and Libby. Rayome said a portion of the dollars would fund the technology to host online classes remotely in Libby.

That would allow Libby-based students to perform both the classroom and hands-on work in the community.

“Now that we’ve had the world close down, everybody learned how well you can do a class on Zoom and everybody Zooms,” Rayome told the commissioners. “Working without getting outside of Libby, getting them in the technical classes to do the physical hands on work, is the big picture.”

As the county owns the property housing the Libby campus, Rayome sought the commissioners’ approval before the college staff moved ahead in the grant application process. Commissioners immediately jumped at the idea.

“I think it’s been really underutilized for years,” said County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2). “I know several [students] that moved to Kalispell and stayed in dorms. They didn’t like it, but would certainly take advantage of living here at home.”

County Commissioner Josh Letcher (D-3) admitted to a possible bias, telling his colleagues that he had gone through the college’s building trades program. He said he wholeheartedly supported the effort.

“Not everybody can be a doctor or a lawyer,” he said. “I think the trades are what built America, physically.”

Bennett cited the demand for the trades.

“We find every day that we are wanting in many aspects of the trades,” Bennett said. “In reality, you can go to these schools and come out making $55,000 to $70,000 a year. And if you want a four-year degree than you have the money to do it.”

In an interview following the meeting, Rayome stressed that the proposal remained in the exploration stage.

“There is a lot that goes into putting together an application,” she said. “We’re exploring it.”

Still, officials are excited, she said. An expansion would boost the vitality of the campus, she said, and let commuter students avoid the treacherous wintertime drive to Kalispell.

Were the campus to expand, Rayome told commissioners she envisioned working with the local Job Service Montana office. The college also could work with elected leaders to prepare the local workforce for any new business ventures in the county, she said.

“I really want to enfranchise more of our community,” Rayome said.