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Despite disagreements, no delays for Dickinson library location

Work continues on the design for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library building that will be built on Dickinson State University land, despite uncertainty voiced about the project's direction at Monday's meeting of the Theodore Roosevelt Pr...

2248205+Thomas Mitzel.jpg

Work continues on the design for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library building that will be built on Dickinson State University land, despite uncertainty voiced about the project’s direction at Monday’s meeting of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum Foundation Board of Trustees.

“Here’s my perspective: they did not stop the building committee from continuing this work, so from our perspective, we continue to do our work,” Dickinson State University President Thomas Mitzel said in a phone interview. “What I want, in the overall sense, I want for the Theodore Roosevelt Digital Center to get funded, and I’d love to have a brand new building but first and foremost I want the program funded. I’ll continue to work as hard I can.”

Monday morning’s meeting  focused on disagreement with the current plan for the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, but following that meeting, the Board’s building subcommittee still met to discuss designs for the presidential library portion to be built in Dickinson.  

Mitzel and Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson, both serve on that subcommittee and both report it as being very productive.

“Yesterday we had a great building committee meeting. We looked at landscape architecture to draw people into the site,” Steiner said in a phone interview. “The rodeo ground is pretty dusty and flat, but for relatively little money, we could return native prairie grasses to it.”

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Steiner was the solitary vote against a motion passed Monday to form a new subcommittee to arrive at a “consensus” regarding the direction of the library and museum project. In March, the board publically decided upon a design plan which included two locations, Dickinson and Medora.

The Dickinson location is key for multiple reasons, foremost being that the land is already available and there is infrastructure in place to build. Medora, a location that was floated relatively recently as an alternative to Dickinson, can’t be developed with the immediacy required to meet the project’s legislative deadline of Dec. 31, 2018, which Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner pointed out in an interview following Monday’s meeting.

“We don’t want to know what’s happening in Medora, the Medora thing is way in the future,” Wardner said. “You got to get infrastructure up there, sewer, water.”

Wardner had said that he thinks Gov. Doug Burgum, whose input was taken during Monday’s meeting, wants the whole project moved to Medora. Wardner said that even if the motion to take some time to seek consensus hadn’t happened, he’d still be advocating for the project to stay in Dickinson.

“Whether we call this a four-week timeout or not, it wouldn’t be any different. We’d still be fighting to keep it in Dickinson,” Wardner said.

The Theodore Roosevelt Digital Center and the digital library project was the initial impetus for the current presidential library project. Mitzel reminded board members of that during Monday’s meeting.

“The digital center is the intellectual property of DSU,” Mitzel said. “I will continue to run it out of the basement of Stoxen Library if I need to, but if people are going to say that they want to do this wonderful thing for Theodore Roosevelt and the digital center is a core of the intellectual property, then I think they want to very carefully think about the legacy they want to leave for that project.”

In a post-meeting interview, Mitzel expressed his confidence that the board’s current disagreements will find smooth resolution.

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“Stay tuned, we’ll find common ground,” he said. “The votes have been unanimous in every case … to continue to put something at the Dickinson site. The city’s been backing this from the very beginning, the state legislature has been backing it from the very beginning … the votes continue to be unanimous.”

Steiner said that, based on private conversations she’d had with Burgum, his intention was to see an existing structure on DSU remodeled to become the home of the digital library.

“The governor had an idea to remodel Selke Hall, but we have been meeting with different groups in Dickinson and the feeling was that any kind of delay could jeopardize the whole project and there wasn’t any desire to add on to an old building,” Steiner said. “The governor was disappointed … he said that, coming from his experience in Fargo, it’s better to remodel old buildings and he felt the (current) building site didn’t have much romance.”

As for what might result from the board following this four-week period of consensus-seeking?

“I feel the board needs to make a decision and stick with it,” Steiner said.

Mike Nowatzki, the governor’s communications director, provided a follow-up statement from the governor’s office.

“Governor Burgum will continue to work with the TRPL board to construct a presidential library worthy of the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt,” he said.

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Related Topics: RICH WARDNER
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