Montana State breaks ground on Gianforte Hall, new building for computer science and related fields

BOZEMAN — A 3-foot tall robot with blinking LED eyes delivered a shovel to Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte on Wednesday afternoon at the groundbreaking for Gianforte Hall at Montana State University, a new three-story building which will house computer science and related fields of study.

The Gianforte Family Foundation donated $50 million to help fund the building, which is scheduled to open in fall of 2026. Due to weather, the groundbreaking was held in Inspiration Hall inside Norm Asbjornson Hall, immediately next door to the future site of Gianforte Hall.

MSU President Waded Cruzado thanked Greg and Susan Gianforte for their longstanding generosity.

“The Gianforte Family Foundation has been our partner for over two decades now,” Cruzado said. “And we’re grateful for its trust and investment in our university and our students.”

“There are a lot of people who deserve thanks for helping Susan and me in the early days of our business,” said Greg Gianforte, who served as an adjunct faculty member at MSU in 1997. “We’ve been especially grateful for our relationship with MSU.”

John Paxton, director of MSU’s Gianforte School of Computing, emceed the ceremony that included a military color guard, cheerleaders and members of MSU’s Spirit of the West marching band. Paxton noted that the two large classrooms of the forthcoming building will be named for computing pioneers Alan Turing and Grace Hopper.

“If a student looks up [inside the Grace Hopper classroom], a moth 3D printed on the ceiling might be noticed,” said Paxton, who is also a professor of computer science. “Grace Hopper is the person who coined the term ‘computer bug’ after discovering a moth had shorted out a vacuum tube in a 1940s computer.”

The planned building will be three stories with nearly 58,000 square feet of interior space. It will incorporate multiple sustainability features designed to target a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, Silver certification, including geothermal systems linked to MSU’s South Campus Energy District, a system that helps reduce energy use by allowing buildings to help heat and cool each other. Gianforte Hall will also be built using sustainable materials to help minimize carbon emissions from concrete and steel used elsewhere in construction. The building will be MSU’s first mass timber structure.

The classrooms will offer generous desk spaces, especially convenient for computing science students, according to Camille Custer, a senior majoring in computer science who spoke at the proceedings.

“It is common in universities to have little desks that can’t hold both a notebook and a laptop,” said Custer, who is expected to graduate in May. “But these new classrooms will have high ceilings, large tables for students, and lots of natural light shining through. The warm tones and inviting appearance of Gianforte Hall will make it a lot easier to work on a computer all day with natural sunlight and the mountain views we all love.”

She also noted the possibilities the new building will bring.

“The new facilities at Gianforte Hall will provide students the opportunity to learn in new ways,” Custer said. “Because of the music, film, photography and computing technology being in the same building, this also allows the university to introduce new curriculums and a potential for new majors and minors that have never been offered before at Montana State. Technology is the future and MSU’s future is bright.”

The Gianforte School of Computing currently offers a Bachelor of Science in computer science, Bachelor of Arts in computer science, an accelerated BS/MS in computer science, a doctorate in computer science, Master of Science in computer science, a Master of Science in data science, a Master of Science in cybersecurity and a graduate certificate in artificial intelligence.

Hennebery Eddy Architects Inc. and Lake Flato Architects designed Gianforte Hall, and Swank Enterprises is the contractor.

The university also held groundbreaking ceremonies for four new MSU nursing education buildings in Great Falls, Missoula, Bozeman and Billings. And on April 23 the university will hold its fifth and final groundbreaking ceremony for a nursing building in Kalispell.