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Lawmakers narrowly approve $79,000 to study flood-related VCSU building project

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BISMARCK – After a spirited debate, state lawmakers narrowly approved funding Wednesday for Valley City State University to study how much it will cost to raze and replace its music building along the Sheyenne River to make way for the city’s flood protection project.

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The Legislature’s interim Budget Section voted 19-15 to approve the $79,000 in funding on a motion by Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City.

The city, using its own money and funds from the State Water Commission, has purchased and removed homes on both sides of VCSU’s Foss Hall, leaving it the only structure remaining along the river in that area, Robinson said.

The city is pressuring the university to remove the 50-year-old building, “as it hinders the effectiveness of the entire project,” part of which would protect VCSU with levees and floodwalls, according to a Dec. 3 letter from the university requesting money from the state Office of Management and Budget’s pre-planning fund.

Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, voted against the funding, saying it will put in place a plan to build a new fine arts center estimated at $19.8 million before the Legislature receives the master facilities plan it has requested for the North Dakota University System.

“To do that before you have the master plan is wrong,” he said after the vote, adding that he voted against two University of North Dakota building projects Wednesday for the same reason.

Delzer also said there’s no way to recapture the funds if VCSU’s fine arts center doesn’t move forward.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said during debate that he, too, wants a master plan, “but I think this is a unique situation that needs to move forward.”

Robinson said some lawmakers felt the $79,000 cost was a bit steep, but he said the study is necessary to find out if the cost of demolishing and replacing Foss Hall is within reach.

In other business Wednesday, OMB Director Pam Sharp updated lawmakers on the status of the state’s general fund, which is projected to end the current two-year legislative cycle on June 30, 2015, with a balance of at least $467 million. Revenues from July through October were running $127 million ahead of the May legislative forecast.

The state started the current biennium July 1 with a $1.65 billion general fund balance.

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.

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Mike Nowatzki
Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.
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