UND Today

University of North Dakota's Official News Source

Smart investments for the future

UND finalizing priority funding requests for examination during the next Legislative session

Merrfield Hall
President Mark Kennedy calls Merrifield Hall (above) “the most beautiful building on campus, a real architectural jewel.” However, built in 1929 and nestled in the heart of campus, the liberal arts hub carries a heavy price tag in deferred maintenance costs and needs updates. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Through enacting its new Campus Master Plan, the University has established a 30-year vision for its campus.

The plan, unveiled in January, provides a launching point for planning the road – and structures – ahead.

In the near term, Mike Pieper, associate vice president of facilities, wants to ensure that the University is making smart investments that will fit with and serve the long-term master plan down the road.

And while strides in fundraising have given legs to projects such as a new home for the College of Business & Public Administration and renovations to the Chester Fritz Library, an infusion of state capital could help UND with other immediate needs.

The University plans to make three priority funding requests during the next legislative session: (1) the remodeling and restoration of Merrifield Hall, (2) the creation of a new science and technology center, (3) and a major investment in other academic and technological infrastructure upgrades.

UND will present its proposals to the North Dakota Legislature early in 2019.

Merrifield classroom
Merrifield Hall is one of the busiest buildings on campus as the “instructional home” to the English department, which alone serves 3,000 students a year. It’s also home to philosophy & religious studies, languages, theatre arts and the Writing Center. UND intends to ask the state for help to make the old building more energy efficient and technologically advanced. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Core maintenance

Merrifield is one of the busiest buildings on campus. President Kennedy says, “It is the most beautiful building on campus, a real architectural jewel.”

Debbie Storrs
Debbie Storrs

Built in 1929 and nestled in the heart of campus, the liberal arts hub carries a heavy price tag in deferred maintenance costs and needs updates, according to Pieper.

The proposal would address energy inefficiencies and enhance technological capabilities of its highly utilized classrooms. Additionally, all of the building’s outdated mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems would be replaced.

Pieper stressed the heavy use of Merrifield would stay the same – it just needs a 21st century treatment for 21st century students and faculty.

“If we want to deliver what students are looking for, it’s hard to do that in a 1929 building,” he said. “What’s good is the 1929 building was constructed very well and it can be easily modified.”

If the project, estimated at $35 million, comes to fruition, Merrifield could serve students and faculty for another hundred years.

Debbie Storrs, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, sees Merrifield as the “instructional heart” of UND’s campus. Merrifield is home to the English department, which alone serves 3,000 students a year for its composition courses. It’s also home to philosophy & religious studies, languages, theatre arts and the Writing Center, which caters to an interdisciplinary base of UND students.

“Learning outcomes and experiences of students should be enhanced through upgraded classroom spaces that facilitate collaboration, hands-on-learning, multimedia sharing and pedagogical flexibility,” she said. “The curriculum at UND has embraced nationwide shifts in how instructors teach and students learn, but our current classroom spaces constrain our ability to engage in such projects with maximum impact.”

One-stop STEM

Next of the three funding requests is perhaps the most ambitious. It’s a project with an estimated cost of more than $100 million but could eliminate around $70 million in overdue maintenance as well as reduce UND’s building footprint near the campus core.

Currently it’s called the “STEM Project” – a new complex that would use existing structures (Starcher Hall and Hyslop’s North section) with a link between them. It would result in updated “wet labs” for multiple disciplines, and integrate cutting-edge technologies within UND’s learning spaces.

STEM is an oft-used acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Pieper’s focus with the STEM Project lies in its economic advantage. Reducing square footage and upkeep to establish more efficient, modern buildings would shift available dollars to classrooms and staffing.

“The built environment in which students are attending class and our staff are going to work every day play a big role in our ability to recruit and retain talent,” Pieper said. “That will continue to be a challenge in higher education, but these changes address that.”

The new building, with up-to-date labs, also would allow temporary tenants of more northern-situated Columbia Hall to move back to main campus.

Existing needs

Creating an alternative means of funding UND’s new steam plant opened up the third spot on the list of proposed state appropriation requests to instead focus on an opportunity to improve existing structures.

Michael Pieper
Michael Pieper

It’s a $45 million multifaceted infrastructure investment project that reaches across campus to address crucial flight-training needs at UND Aerospace, work on historic campus buildings, and solidifying UND’s IT framework.

After receiving first-phase funding for an aircraft apron – where planes park and board – in 2015, UND Aerospace is ready to complete the project. Referred to as the “classroom of UND flight training,” the deteriorated state of portions of the existing apron poses safety risks. Also, with a national pilot shortage forecasted over the next 20 years, UND needs its training ground to remain top-notch.

Like Merrifield, other historic buildings on campus are severely energy inefficient. The Historic Building Envelope Project, as it’s called, would replace outdated windows, doors and roofs – lowering operational costs and creating better working environments for students and staff.

The final part of the infrastructure investments request would complete UND’s data wiring and security, providing electronic door access systems and surveillance cameras for building exteriors, as well as establishing a 1-gigabit data standard within buildings to improve the wireless network on campus.

“The University has been smart and listened to what the state had to say in terms of wanting to see more investment in existing buildings,” Pieper said. “Most of what we’re asking for centers on improving what we already have.

“If officials look at the master planning for future projects like the STEM building and the long-term operational savings that our projects focus on, they’ll be able to see UND is in line with previous recommendations.”