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Our View: Build Roosevelt library the right way

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library is a grand idea. Last week, business and city leaders around Dickinson got an idea just how grand it could be when Jim Kelly, the Theodore Roosevelt President Library Foundation CEO, made the rounds and...

The rendering created by JLG Architects of Dickinson shows the proposed Great Hall in the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library planned for the Dickinson State University campus between State Avenue North and 13th Avenue West. (JLG Architects)
The rendering created by JLG Architects of Dickinson shows the proposed Great Hall in the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library planned for the Dickinson State University campus between State Avenue North and 13th Avenue West. (JLG Architects)

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library is a grand idea.

Last week, business and city leaders around Dickinson got an idea just how grand it could be when Jim Kelly, the Theodore Roosevelt President Library Foundation CEO, made the rounds and showed various groups concept renderings of the library.

To say the proposed design is impressive would be selling it short.

It's a sweeping vision in which an entire 26-acre city block smack dab in the middle of Dickinson would be transformed into a faux Badlands setting, with millions of dollars in landscaping to create earthen berms and a man-made creek accentuating the impressive library and museum complex designed to invoke the Badlands Roosevelt so loved.

Architecturally, the library would be unparalleled by any facility in the state. It'd be a breathtaking tourist destination and the educational center of Dickinson State University and the region.

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But here's the problem: this grand design doesn't have a price tag. It's just that. A concept and a dream.

It's a dream that's going to take a lot of money to realize. Bruce Pitts, chairman of the library foundation board, estimates the project's cost could reach $100 million by the time its design is finalized. And that's just to take delivery. No one knows what it would cost to eventually run the place.

If the foundation breaks ground this summer on the library site-currently the DSU rodeo grounds, with three more rodeos left to host through the end of June-it'll receive $12 million in funding allocated to the project three years ago by the North Dakota Legislature. The city of Dickinson has committed another $5 million.

However, with the state and city's budget concerns, getting that money may not come without a bit of legislator and taxpayer pushback-especially if the foundation has no other committed money by the time it hopes to start putting shovels in the ground.

The foundation is targeting a December 2019 completion for the library. That's only three-and-a-half years from today. The library foundation board's recently published request for proposals states that it believes "private donors, foundations, and other government entities" have shown enough interest "that significant additional funds will be available" to build the project.

If so, they better get to work finding and convincing millionaires and billionaires to hand over pieces of their fortunes to help build a library and museum in the middle-of-nowhere North Dakota.

As they raise funds, Pitts and other foundation board members note the library would likely need to be built in stages. They know something has to start because taxpayer dollars have been committed, and getting to work later this year is part of the deal DSU made with the Legislature to secure that funding.

That could mean trouble.

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Projects like this rarely come to full fruition exactly the way they were intended. Remember how much bigger the Biesiot Activities Center was envisioned to be at first? Plans changed for the West River Community Center along the way. Why would this be any different?

The foundation needs to do everything it can to raise the money it's going to take to build the library the way it wants. If it can't, then scale back and then build something reasonable that can be added on to.

Those in charge of building the library shouldn't just start building an Elkhorn Ranch cabin replica this summer because they want to prove this museum is actually going to exist, or because they have some arbitrary and likely ill-conceived goal of opening the doors on the 100-year anniversary of Roosevelt's death.

We understand that this project is real and we believe it's a good idea for Dickinson and North Dakota. We only implore them to remember the entire focus of this library-the digitization efforts of DSU Theodore Roosevelt Center documents, which often seems lost in the midst of some grand vision-and understand that building something great takes time.

Sometimes more time than expected.

This library stands to be a game changer for Dickinson and North Dakota if it's done correctly.

It needs to be grand, not grandiose. It needs to be built right, not simply to keep a schedule.

The Dickinson Press Editorial Board consists of Publisher Harvey Brock and Managing Editor Dustin Monke.

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