UND law school ups price for renovation project: Officials get green light to raise $2.5 million in private funds:

GRAND FORKS -- The State Board of Higher Education's Budget and Finance Committee has given the University of North Dakota the go-ahead to put $2.5 million more in private funds toward UND's $11.4 million law school renovation and remodeling proj...

GRAND FORKS - The State Board of Higher Education’s Budget and Finance Committee has given the University of North Dakota the go-ahead to put $2.5 million more in private funds toward UND’s $11.4 million law school renovation and remodeling project and also allowed the university to continue raising more money.

The additional money, which brings the total project price tag up to $13.9 million, and any raised through fundraising will not affect the base of the 15,000-square-foot addition. The extra money will instead go toward special projects that are slated to help with accreditation. These projects include having more collaborative learning spaces, multipurpose classrooms and a renovation of the law clinic and courtroom.

Law school Dean Kathryn Rand said even if fundraising is a complete bust, it will not affect the base addition project.

“Although we anticipate coming back and asking for a portion of the contingency pool, we’d also like to seek approval to do some private fundraising for the brick and mortar in order to complete the entire scope of the project, which we understand would be the most cost-effective way to do it,” she said. “Of course that’s, from our perspective, the best way to serve our students.”

The $500,000 UND plans to seek from the contingency pool will also go toward auxiliary improvements to the project.


Setting costs

At the meeting Wednesday, the committee consisting of SBHE board members Duaine Espegard, Grant Shaft and Kari Reichert also discussed the necessity for setting a standard in spending money on capital projects, such as the law school, and Shaft suggested being more involved in the process.

“I worry we leave a lot of dollars on the table because we kind of back into the projects,” he said.

For instance, the board allocates money toward projects before receiving actual bids from architectural firms, setting a cost standard that could possibly be higher than what firms would have started bidding at if they didn’t know how much money the university had to spend.

“It makes it look like we’re getting duped and it puts the Legislature in a bad spot,” Espegard said.

But Rick Tonder, UND’s director of capital projects and planning, said hiring consultants to get more concrete numbers to the board earlier could cost about $1 million per project.

Shaft also suggested being more involved in physical building planning, but no decisions on the subject were ultimately made.

“We approve the money, but somebody could take that and build a med school that looks like the Guggenheim (Museum) and we would have no say in it,” he said.


Other business

The committee also discussed the Energy and Environmental Research Center budget deficit.

Alice Brekke, UND’s vice president for finance and operations, said that while she has presented a financial plan to keep the center on track, things have not improved enough and the center has had a deficit every year since 2010.

Funding has been significantly cut to the center since 2008, resulting in decreased profits. The EERC had a $1.3 million deficit in 2011, a $1.1 million deficit in 2012, a $2 million deficit in 2013, and predicted a $300,000 deficit for 2014 and none in the following years, according to UND’s 2013 financial report.

But at the meeting, Brekke said the center now predicts a deficit into 2015.

Shaft suggested the board take a more proactive approach, but for now, Brekke is going to convey committee chair Espegard’s discontent with the problem to EERC officials.

“They’ve got to make some changes,” Espegard said.

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