Washington Foundation gives $10M to UM for College of Education expansion

The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation on Friday announced a $10 million gift to the University of Montana, providing funds earmarked for a large addition to the Phyllis J. Washington Education Center.

The addition to the center, which houses the university’s education and human sciences programs, will stand three stories tall and provide 35,000 square feet of space.

It includes a 500-seat auditorium, the largest on campus; clinical labs for the counselor education program; new spaces for the Montana Digital Academy; and two additional Learning and Belonging Preschool classrooms with observation rooms, seminar spaces, an outdoor play yard and a unique inspiration lab.

“We could not be more proud to have Dennis and Phyllis Washington as our allies in building an exceptional college for education and human sciences,” said UM President Sheila Stearns. “They epitomize the Montana ethic of working hard, earning success and giving back to build a stronger Montana.”

The addition is solely funded through philanthropic giving, and several donors have joined the Washington Foundation to support the project. Last year, the Alice Lee Lund Charitable Trust made a $5 million gift toward the auditorium, and Montanans Betsy and Warren Wilcox and Maureen and Dan Rovig have also contributed.

“Since the beginning of our foundation, both Dennis and I have been committed to helping youth realize their dream of accessing high-quality education through scholarships,” said Phyllis Washington, chairperson of the Washington Foundation. “As a former elementary education teacher myself, I realize that investing in 21st-century technology and facilities and in transformative teacher development programs will impact students for generations to come.”

The Washington Foundation helped fund the first addition to the education center, which was completed in 2009 and named in honor of Phyllis Washington. Since then, the college has demonstrated across-the-board growth, something it attributes to Montana’s demand for teachers, distance-learning and mental health professionals.

“We’re poised to become a national leader in education, human sciences and other helping professions,” said Roberta Evans, dean of the college. “With the support and guidance of these generous and passionate friends of our college, our programs will continue to grow and support high-need fields through the development of qualified professionals who will create a lasting, positive impact on our local community, the state of Montana and our nation.”

The Alice Lund Instructional Auditorium is named in honor of the woman who earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at UM before launching her career as a teacher. It will stand as the largest lecture hall and event space on campus when it’s complete.

The space will allow the university to host large-scale education conferences and meetings, such as the state teachers’ union annual meeting.

Preliminary preparations for construction began in late August. The project is expected to be completed by Dec. 31, 2018.