Building at UND is booming: Since 2000, university has seen more than $264 million in construction, more ahead
GRAND FORKS — Though it doesn’t appear to be a construction zone, the University of North Dakota is in the midst of a building boom.
Of the 243 buildings on campus, 14 percent were built in 2000 and after. Including the other 41 off-campus buildings, such as hangars at the Grand Forks airport where UND teaches student pilots and the Bismarck clinics for medical residencies, the percentage of new buildings jumps up to 17 percent.
That’s a substantial chunk, considering the university was founded in 1883 and 40 percent of its structures were built in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
And more construction is ahead, which will include the renovation of outdated buildings such as the School of Law and its library.
Facilities Management Director Larry Zitzow has worked at UND for 41 years and seen a lot of change.
“I’ve been able to see the campus grow, see buildings go away and see new buildings come forward,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity to see the campus change physically.”
More than $264 million was spent on construction and remodeling from 2000 to 2013, and at least another $189 million is being spent on current and upcoming projects, not including the $17 million data network center owned by the North Dakota University System.
A lot of this money has come from and will come from taxpayers, but some projects are funded by private donations as well. A big example is the $100 million Ralph Engelstad Arena, donated by Engelstad. Some buildings, such as a gas station and bank, were built by businesses.
The student population has also grown with the buildings; enrollment has increased to 15,250 students, which is about 50 percent more than in 2000.
Changing needs Zitzow’s job entails making sure the buildings on campus fit the needs of its occupants and said the reason for all the recent growth is that collaborative learning space has become a necessity for students.
“It allows them to come together and communicate,” he said.
The changes in the last decade have ranged from updates in student housing to the remodeling of the education building and addition of the high-tech SCALE-UP classroom attached to O’Kelly Hall, to name a few. The money came from a combination of grants, state-allocated funds and donations.
UND spokesman Peter Johnson also has seen a lot of change since his time as a student at UND in the ‘80s.
“I think it’s been good to see that we’re building facilities that are connected to the needs of the institutions,” he said.
Zitzow said the overall look of UND is changing as well; the west side of campus is getting a more modern facelift while the east side will still retain older architecture and the memories that go with it, even with remodeling.
“That’s where the historical people have helped us to understand and appreciate that critical component,” he said. “Sometimes you get so focused on business you forget about that part of it.”
Future growth Along with the millions spent in the last decade, the school is going full steam ahead with six projects:
- The $15 million Collaborative Energy Complex to enhance petroleum engineering and other engineering programs.
- An $11 million law school renovation and addition.
- A new $122 million building for the medical school.
- The $25 million Aerospace Research Center to enhance unmanned aircraft research.
- A revamping of Wilkerson Hall that has yet to be priced.
- The $15 million first stage of a High Performance Center, an indoor athletics facility.
Though the cost is still unknown, UND is also expected to break ground on a new business school building in the next three to five years as well.
Zitzow said the projects with known completion dates should be done by the summer of 2016 and are necessary to stay up to date. For example, Wilkerson Hall houses the largest cafeteria on campus and is connected to five residence halls, so the heavily used structure needs to be modernized.
“Wilkerson becomes the hub of housing,” he said. “A comingling of students, faculty and staff is what we’re trying to create.”
The school was also recently given permission by the State Board of Higher Education to begin raising $6 million for collaborative learning spaces throughout campus.
Demolition? But growth can also mean sacrifice.
There are plans to move faculty and staff out of the Era Bell Thompson Multicultural Center and the Women’s Center buildings, though everything is still in the beginning stages and there are no plans to eliminate departments, demolish or sell the existing structures.
“Those facilities are houses and, you know, in a university setting, that isn’t necessarily the best situation for anybody,” Zitzow said. “It served its purpose and did a nice job. Hopefully this movement will enhance the program.”
Johnson said once the new med school building is up, the university will have the entire former med school to work with when it comes to moving departments around, but nothing is in stone.
“It will be more of an issue of maybe trying to find a better space than being off in your own building,” he said.
But not everyone is happy about it.
Transparency Kathleen Dixon, UND’s director of the women and gender studies program, uses both buildings to meet with students and said the programs being moved are the ones that need to be secluded. Dixon worries that especially with the Women’s Center, sexual-assault victims and other abused women won’t want to seek help in a potentially big building with lots of student traffic.
“There just simply has not been any inquiry or any consultation with the people for whom this would matter,” she said.
Dixon also cited a lack of communication between administration, faculty and staff as a source of angst and confusion with the renovations on campus.
“They have not been transparent and open with the campus community and the larger community,” she said. “Because of this, rumors are circulating.”
Other older buildings have been removed or repurposed in the past, such as the old Ralph Engelstad Arena, which is being replaced by the High Performance Center, and the demolition of Old Science Hall.
“There are some buildings on this campus that are quite old, and they’ve been kept going with wire and duct tape,” Johnson said.
Senior Sarah Borgen, who frequently visits the Women’s Center because her adviser’s office is there, said the building serves its purpose as-is. Keeping the homey feel of the center is an important part of its function, she said.
“I know it looks good on paper to just pick up and move people, but there is a history to each place,” she said. “I’m not sure why there is this threat on one of the only places people feel comfortable going to.”
After graduation But is all of this progress worth it? Are graduates getting jobs?
In 2011, 82 percent of recent UND graduates had jobs “directly or somewhat related” to their degree. The variety of programs available and location have remained students’ primary reasons for attending UND since 2001.
Hesham El-Rewini, dean of the College of Engineering and Mines, said the new energy research complex will give students, the state and industry better research outcomes by fostering collaboration.
“I’m a firm believer that a technical solution to the energy problem is not enough without understanding the legal aspects, the business and economic aspects and even the social aspects,” he said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 55 million job openings were projected nationally from 2004 to 2014 for workers who are entering an occupation for the first time. Of these, at least 13.9 million were expected to be filled by college-educated workers.
Bruce Smith, dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, said UND’s growth is exciting in that it will presumably attract more students to an area where they can then get jobs in the growing field of unmanned aircraft systems.
“It was only 50 years between the time the war ended and we were walking on the moon,” he said. “Unmanned aircraft will have that same profound effect.”
The department’s emphasis on UAS technology in the new building will enhance its already popular commercial aviation program.
“The future is breathtaking,” Smith said.