GRAND FORKS — As the bricks fell and construction sounds roared, the University of North Dakota said goodbye to a piece of campus history on Wednesday, July 31, and prepared to welcome the students of the future in the process.

“Some people refer to it as this living room of campus,” said Cassie Gerhardt, UND’s associate dean of students. “It’s that common space that isn’t tied to any specific major or class or thing. It’s just about the campus community coming together.”

Demolition on the original Memorial Union, built in 1951, began Wednesday afternoon to make way for a new Memorial Union to be ready by 2021. Demolition will continue over the next two weeks.

Memorial Union has been a “lab” for some students to learn about themselves and one another, while growing their leadership skills, Gerhardt said.

“It’s where I learned the most as a student,” she said. “It’s where I learned to think by being involved with student government. It was as important of an educational place as any classroom I ever was in on campus.”

Soon, construction will begin on a new Memorial Union. Brian Larson, director of construction management at UND, said demolition crews will be tearing down the building with excavators and sorting out materials that can be recycled or thrown away. After the materials are extracted, the foundation will be removed and then filled.

An excavator knocks down a section of the UND Memorial Union as water is sprayed towards the demolition to control dust Wednesday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
An excavator knocks down a section of the UND Memorial Union as water is sprayed towards the demolition to control dust Wednesday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Larson expects work will begin on the new building by September.

“There will be kind of a seamless transition from demolition right into construction,” he said.

The $80 million project was approved by students late last year, but hit a small road bump in June when interim President Joshua Wynne asked for the project to be put on hold temporarily so he could assess what the debt load would be for students.

The main funding for the $80 million building will remain the same, with a majority of the project’s bond being paid for with increases to student fees. Those fees will be slightly reduced thanks to the additional contribution of $250,000 a year by the university. A potentially lower interest rate and the retirement of debt on the current Memorial Union could further reduce student fees in the future.

A rendering of the outside of the new Memorial Union. (Rendering provided by UND)
A rendering of the outside of the new Memorial Union. (Rendering provided by UND)

The project has been supported by multiple UND Student Senate administrations, including that of Erik Hanson who was president when students voted to construct the building last year.

“There’s a lot of students that voted for this that they’re going to be paying money for something that they won’t get to use, but what they believed in is they wanted to make a better university for students of tomorrow,” Hanson said in November. “(The new building) is something that we hope will create collaborative space and create an energy on campus for development and bringing people together.”

The original building was dedicated on May 18, 1951, in conjunction with the junior/senior prom, according to Gerhardt.

When it was constructed, the Union was dedicated as a memorial to the 172 UND students and alumni who gave their lives in service during World War II.

The building will continue to be called the Memorial Union in honor of students, staff, faculty and alumni who have given their lives in service during various wars and conflicts, Gerhardt said.