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UND to vacate 8 buildings due to condition: University plans new uses or demolition of structures, some historic

GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota has named eight buildings it plans to vacate because of their poor condition or maintenance and repair needs, including two of the campus’ older buildings and two housing women’s programs and multicultural services.

UND spokesman Peter Johnson said the designation means the university is evaluating their use and did not necessarily mean they would be demolished.

“We haven’t made any decisions on exactly what will happen,” he said, though some were more likely to be torn down.

“What we try to figure out is what is the best use of the space with have,” Johnson added. “What are the facilities we have that have reached the point of, ‘Maybe we should do something else with them?’”

University President Robert Kelley identified the buildings in a unversitywide email as Chandler Hall, Babcock Hall, the Strinden Center, the Era Bell Thompson Center, 314 Cambridge, the Women’s Center, the Center for Community Engagement and student residence Dakota Hall.

Chandler, between the English Coulee and the Smith-Fulton-Johnstone residence hall complex, and Babcock, near the intersection of Centennial Drive and Campus Road on the southeast side of the campus quad, date to the early years of the university, said Peg O’Leary, coordinator of the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission.

The Thompson center for multicultural services, the Women’s Center and the Center for Community Engagement are residential houses that have been converted into offices. The Strinden Center, on University Avenue, recently was the location of the Alumni Association, and 314 Cambridge houses KFJM radio’s studio and other offices and once contained a Valley Dairy convenience store. Dakota Hall, northwest of campus, is a former motel converted to student housing.

Historic value

Babcock, Chandler and the Women’s Center are listed by the National Register of Historic Places as contributing to the campus historic district.

“Babcock is a highly significant building on campus and in the state,” O’Leary said.

Home to UND’s anthropology and archaeology programs, it was the site of early research on lignite coal and the “birthplace” of pottery work by Margaret Cable. It is also the only example of Jacobethan architecture in the state.

“Plus, its position right on the quad is very important,” she said.

UND has traditionally restricted construction and demolition in its historic center. “The quad has since the very early days been sacrosanct.”

She said the demolition of any of the on-campus buildings would leave gaps in the historical character of the campus district.

“If that goes to surface parking, that will be highly unattractive,” she said.

The services in the Women’s Center and the Era Bell Thompson Center will move to temporary spaces on campus this spring. While there has been no timeline set for demolition of those buildings, Johnson said UND will probably tear them down.

“I would think it’s more likely,” he said. “I’m not sure what we would do with them otherwise.”

New space

UND will gain space for programs and services once the School of Medicine and Health Sciences moves to a new building to be constructed on the northeast side of campus. No plans have been made, however, for the old med school, and “no building will be removed from service until plans are approved for addressing the needs of the current occupants of that building,” Kelley wrote in his email.

Other than the two buildings to be vacated this spring, no plans are set for when the university would vacate the other buildings or whether it would raze them. Talk of vacating Chandler Hall has been around for decades, Johnson said.

“It’s not like the bulldozers are lined up,” Johnson said. “We won’t be acting very soon on any of these, I don’t imagine.”

O’Leary said she expects UND would be more likely to demolish the buildings than find other uses.

“If it’s not a done deal, they’re not doing very well at conveying that to the community at large,” she said.

“I’m concerned that there doesn’t seem to be much involvement with the historic preservation community.”

Christopher Bjorke

Christopher Bjorke is the content editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He first worked for the Herald in 1997 and most recently since 2011. His jobs at the Herald have included covering local government, state politics, business and economics, and the health care industry. 

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