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Group pushes back timeline on raising $1 million for governor’s residence

BISMARCK - A group trying to raise $1 million in private donations to help pay for a new North Dakota governor's residence is pushing back its timeline by a few months, but co-chairman Jim Poolman remains confident the money will materialize desp...

BISMARCK – A group trying to raise $1 million in private donations to help pay for a new North Dakota governor’s residence is pushing back its timeline by a few months, but co-chairman Jim Poolman remains confident the money will materialize despite the state’s economic downturn.

Commitments of more than $500,000 that were announced just before Christmas are now in the bank, meeting the requirement for construction to begin, Poolman said Tuesday before updating a panel of lawmakers about the fundraising effort.

Since taking a break from fundraising in January, the Friends of the North Dakota Governor’s Residence committee has lined up another roughly $150,000 in pledged donations, he said.

Poolman had hoped to hit the $1 million mark by the end of March, but he said that’s now more likely to happen by the end of June.

“We’re not going to meet that goal, and that was by choice. We don’t want to burn our committee out. But we’re back at it and getting commitments,” he said.

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The 118 contributors so far include 20 businesses, 29 state legislators and several former lawmakers and current statewide officeholders, with donations ranging from $25 to $100,000. Sixty percent of the donations were made online through www.friendsoftheresidence.com , which will chronicle the construction of the new residence, Poolman said.

“People have stepped up across the state,” he said.

Lawmakers voted last spring to spend up to $4 million from the state’s Capitol Building Trust Fund to replace the existing 56-year-old dwelling if $1 million in private funds could be raised.

The state constitution allows the trust fund to be used only for construction or maintenance of public buildings on the Capitol grounds, and the project wasn’t affected by 4.05 percent budget cuts imposed on most state agencies last month to help offset a projected general fund revenue shortfall of $1.07 billion for 2015-17.

Still, Poolman said it might be harder to raise money given the state’s economic downturn, especially out west in oil country. But he said raising the first $500,000 was the hardest part.

“Now that the project is going to be in process, I think that people are going to see progress and they’re going to want to be a part of it,” he said.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, who chairs the Legislative Procedure and Arrangements Committee, told Poolman that he’s heard comments that the design of the new residence “looked more commercial than it did residential,” though Carlson added he hadn’t looked at the drawings.

“But I think it’s very important that it’s a centerpiece for our state. We’d better make sure we get it right,” he said.

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While the one-story designs remains the same as that approved by the Capitol Grounds Planning Commission in December, the 17,700-square-foot size has been scaled down to about 12,000 square feet to stay within the $5 million limit, Facility Management Director John Boyle said.

“We didn’t want to sacrifice on the quality of this, so we figured we would sacrifice on the quantity,” he said.

The new digs will still dwarf the old 10,000-square-foot residence, which has a 4,800-square-foot basement that’s not utilized, Boyle said. Lawmakers said the current ranch-style residence has problems ranging from security to asbestos to a lack of handicapped accessibility and would have cost up to $3 million to repair and upgrade.

Construction is slated to start in August, with completion targeted for Thanksgiving 2017, Boyle said.

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