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12 sites eyed for future Theodore Roosevelt library: Recommended sites on Dickinson State campus, along Interstate 94

With funding from the state Legislature and the city of Dickinson secured, the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University is now eyeing 12 sites around the city for its planned presidential library.

Ohio-based museum design firm Hilferty & Associates presented the TR Center and DSU staff with a master plan, along with its top four site recommendations, only one of which is on the DSU campus.

The consulting group’s first choice would be the area south of Interstate 94 near the North Dakota State University Research Extension Center, mainly for the location’s visibility from the freeway, easy street access and proximity to the city’s westward expansion. Other top choices include the DSU campus northwest of May Hall, Baron’s Vista Butte site west of I-94 and the existing museum site on Museum Drive.

Recommendations were based on a numerical ranking system that weighed various factors, including expansion capabilities, character, Roosevelt-relevant landmarks and economic development potential.

The scouting process has brought out some strong opinions from the community about where the landmark should be built — many of which lean toward the DSU campus.

“My feeling is that it should really be built on campus, or at least very close to campus,” said Gene Jackson, a Dickinson city commissioner.

The commission recently approved an eventual $8 million award toward the library, but has not taken a formal stance regarding the library’s location.

Jackson said it would enhance the academic excellence of the university, as well as be a recruitment tool for new staff and students.

The tourist draw of the library will be important, he said, but “we should make sure the academic priority is at least equal to the tourism aspect.”

Mayor Dennis Johnson said the library would add prestige to the university.

“I see it being a huge positive development for Dickinson State,” he said. “An extremely positive development for Dickinson State, as well as Dickinson and our region and really, the whole state.”

Theodore Roosevelt Humanities Scholar Clay Jenkinson said he realizes the library has become “a healing project” for the university after negative publicity in recent years.

“There’s a strong desire to put in on campus,” he said. “That may be where it winds up.”

Despite that desire, the TR Center staff is keeping an open mind until it is ready to make a decision, Jenkinson said.

“There’s no unanimity,” he said. “We’re intrigued by a number of places.”

TR Center staff have continuously been touring various sites around Dickinson, as well as other presidential libraries around the U.S. They expect a final location recommendation from the consulting group within the next couple of weeks, with a possible decision to be made within a couple of months.

Jenkinson said a “Roosevelt-appropriate” location will be vital to make the library a world-class facility for years to come.

“We’re looking 20 years, 50 years, even 70 years down the road,” he said. “We realize this is going to be a permanent, national institution.”

Jenkinson and four others — DSU President DC Coston, TR Center project manager Sharon Kilzer, North Dakota University System chief of staff Murray Sagsveen and Dickinson State Foundation CEO Kevin Thompson — make up the incorporators of a recently formed entity that will recruit board members to oversee the project as it moves forward. The incorporated entity is now seeking federal non-profit status in order to solicit private donations toward the library, which Hilferty estimates could cost nearly $50 million to construct.

The DSU Foundation has helped fund the TR Center and Thompson said he has “not wavered” in his support of building the library on campus. However, the decision will have to be made with the input of the future governing board.

Kilzer said the strong opinions surrounding the location of the library are an indication of the community’s “energy and passion and enthusiasm” regarding the project.

“We all want the same thing: for this to succeed and for the university to remain strong,” she said.

Once Hilferty presents its final analysis, the TR Center will deliberate both the expert recommendation and the opinions of DSU and city officials.

The passion of the pro-DSU rhetoric won’t necessarily shape the decision, Jenkinson said, but “we want to make sure everyone is heard.”

Regardless of where the library ends up, Jenkinson said it will be a great achievement for the city and the state.

“I’m less interested in where it goes from a GPS point of view than for what it signifies, and the message that it presents to the people of Dickinson and North Dakota,” he said. “Frankly, I don’t think we can go wrong.”

Where are the other presidential libraries?

The roughly $15 million in state and city funds awarded to the future Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum are not contingent on the library being built on the Dickinson State University campus.

“We may have an opinion, but I don’t see it as any kind of trump card or anything,” Jackson said.

But if it does end up on the DSU campus, it would be in the company of a number of other presidential libraries built on university grounds:

- The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, University of Texas, Austin campus.

- The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor campus.

- The George Bush Presidential Library & Museum, Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

- The George W. Bush Presidential Center, Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas.

- The Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library, independent from the Office of Presidential Libraries in the National Archives and Records Administration — as the future Theodore Roosevelt project would be — is located on the Mississippi State University campus in Mississippi State, Miss.

Libraries for presidents John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, have loose associations with Harvard University, Emory University and University of Arkansas, respectively.

Jenkinson said that whatever happens, the library will remain a DSU project.