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NDSU's STEM building to encroach on students' green space, despite concerns

FARGO -- The planning committee behind North Dakota State University's new $29.6 million academic building has settled on a site for the project despite concerns that it would encroach on a popular outdoor space for students.

The building -- funded by the 2013 Legislature -- will provide classroom and laboratory space for several academic programs, with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math. The STEM building is set to be a state-of-the-art academic space.

In consultation with the project's architects, the advisory committee chose a space east of Memorial Union facing University Avenue as the preferred site for the building. The open grassy area -- known as Churchill Field -- is a popular spot for impromptu games of ultimate Frisbee and flag football, and outdoor studying and leisure.

Students, citing the lack of open green spaces on campus, oppose putting the STEM building on any part of Churchill Field, in a resolution passed by the NDSU Student Government earlier this month.

"We just need to make sure that we look at all the options before using up any green space on campus," said Erik Diederich, student body vice president.

During favorable weather, he said the field is in use by several groups of students starting around lunch time until 8 p.m. It's used for residence hall events, intramural sports and other campus activities.

Diederich, who also serves as the only student member of the STEM building advisory committee, said he was initially disappointed that the Memorial Union East Patio/Churchill Field site was chosen, but that the committee is working to minimize the amount of the field "consumed" by the new building.

Initial concepts being considered indicate the building could sit close to Memorial Union so it wouldn't eat up too much of the field. Other designs push the STEM building east toward University Avenue, creating a designated green space enclosed by the student union, Dinan Hall and Churchill Hall.

Mike Ellingson, facilities management director and chairman of the committee, said many were initially concerned about the site because they thought the building would be set in the middle of the field with no effort made to conserve green space.

He said the 15-person advisory committee -- a cross-section of the university representing the colleges and departments that will use the space -- will consider the green space issue among other factors over the next few months to ensure the building meets NDSU's needs.

The committee is also considering the "wow factor" of the building and its relationship to the union in deciding its exact placement within the site.

Brian Berg with Zerr Berg Architects of Fargo, the lead architect on the project, said the new building will be a big recruiting tool for the university. He said the significance of the building is important to consider.

"This building will shape the way the college experience happens for every student who walks through the doors," he said.

The committee is scheduled to meet through January. It will help determine not only the location of the building on the site, but the internal layout and overall aesthetic.

Berg said construction will likely start next spring. The building is set to be complete by the time classes start in fall 2015.