UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

New leases on life

University rolls out proposals for renovation and restoration of century-old campus sentinels

Babcock Hall, UND’s oldest academic building, is one of three campus structures slated for renovation and repurposing, pending approval by the State Board of Higher Education. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Babcock Hall is returning to its roots – with a modern twist.

UND’s oldest academic building, the original home of the School of Mines (now the College of Engineering & Mines) will become the home of the electrical engineering and computer science department, as well as a hub for big data research on campus.

It’s one of three buildings slated for renovation and repurposing, pending approval by the State Board of Higher Education.

Carnegie Hall will be transformed into office and meeting space, while Gustafson Hall will house gathering space and guests.

The goal is to renovate the buildings, showcase their historical significance and add to the beauty of campus, said Mike Pieper, associate vice president for facilities.

“UND has an excellent academic reputation,” Pieper said. “Our goal is to marry that with a great campus experience. That’s what students want.”

“There is a great quote from President Merrifield,” said Brian Larson, associate director of construction management. “He believed that architecture is a way to influence the academic environment. He said that ‘the real object of beautification is its educational uplift upon the great body of the youth of North Dakota . . . . The taste for natural beauty which will thus be cultivated here will be carried into the state.’”

Babcock Hall was the original home of the School of Mines (now the College of Engineering & Mines) at UND. University planners are proposing the historic structure be renovated to become the new home of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department as well as a hub for big data research on campus. Archival image.

Coal and clay

Earle J. Babcock

Babcock Hall was built in 1908 and designed by renowned architect Joseph Bell DeRemer, who also designed Merrifield Hall and the North Dakota State Capitol. It’s named for Earle J. Babcock, UND’s first engineering dean and interim president from 1917 to 1918.

Babcock pioneered investigation of lignite and clay deposits, as well as the possibility of growing sugar beets (this research was later transferred to the Agricultural College, now NDSU). His laboratory became the “testing room” for the State of North Dakota, and pioneered the tradition of using research to teach students as well as help North Dakota, its people and economy.

His work in lignite coal deposits continues on campus today. Babcock’s research on clay deposits in North Dakota fueled the founding of the ceramics department, which was led by Margaret Cable in the 1920s. She and her students crafted highly collectible UND pottery.

Babcock circa 1977
For many years, Babcock Hall was home to the UND departments of anthropology, archeology and geography. Here is the entrance to the building circa 1977. Archival image.

That spirit of innovation will continue at Babcock Hall.

The renovations include removing additions, which detract from the building’s historical significance. The exterior and interior will be restored and remodeled to fit the needs of the electrical & computer science department. It will also be a hub for big data research, with open space, labs, and a collaborative area.

“The Big Data Hub at Babcock is the next big thing for the College of Engineering and Mines,” said Dean Hesham El-Rewini. “The restored historic building will include collaboration space for faculty and researchers from CEM and other colleges at UND, state-of-the art  labs, innovation/tech transfer space, and industry-in-residence space. I am so excited about the opportunity to highlight an important piece of our history in the heart of campus as we look forward to a brighter future for our college and university.”

According to future plans, Carnegie Hall, built in 1907, could comprise University executive offices and meeting spaces, freeing up possible new academic space in Twamley Hall. Archival image.

Carnegie remodel

Carnegie Hall was constructed in 1907 with a $30,000 donation from philanthropist and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. It served as the library for the University until 1928, then became the dining center, or “commons,” from 1929 to 1943, and housed home economics & nutrition until 1996. It was used for a variety of purposes, including admissions, after that.

An original stained glass skylight will be the center piece of the Carnegie remodel, along with removing the two additions which were not part of the original building. It will require minimal work, Pieper said.

It may house executive offices and meeting spaces, which would open up new academic spaces in Twamley Hall.

Gustafson Hall
Gustafson Hall, with the Adelphi Fountain in the foreground and a train whizzing by in the background, stands magestically on the south end of campus, as it has for nearly 110 years. Archival image.

Ol’ Gustafson 

Gustafson Hall, built in 1909 and also designed by Joseph Bell DeRemer, was the original home of the Varsity Bachelor Club, UND’s first fraternity (later Phi Delta Theta). During the influenza epidemic in 1918, Gustafson was used as a temporary hospital, and for years was the headquarters for extended learning. The building is named for Continuing Education Dean Ben G. Gustafson, who helped revitalize and broaden UND’s educational outreach in the 1950s.

Gustafson will return to housing guests, this time distinguished speakers, donors and other visitors to campus. The first floor will include gathering space for faculty and campus events. The basement, second and third floors will contain hotel rooms and short-term one-bedroom apartments.

Reshaping history

The work, if approved by the State Board, will begin as soon as 2020, dependent on fundraising. It will coincide with the removal and relocation of the Steam Plant to save money and other resources, as well as minimize disruption.

Mike Pieper
Mike Pieper

With the removal of several buildings and student apartments over the last couple of years, UND has shrunk its footprint and freed up maintenance dollars to help fund the renovations.

The three buildings have a combined $8 million of deferred maintenance, said Pieper, who added that they hope donors may be interested in helping refurbish the buildings.

“In the long term, UND will be fiscally stronger,” said Les Bjore, director of planning, design and construction. “The campus master plan calls for the removal of a million square feet of deferred maintenance. We have removed around 300,000 square feet, which will make us more efficient.”

Pieper said the 30-year campus master plan is to focus on improvements and efficiency.

“We want campus to be a destination, and to give students a better campus experience. At the same time, we will be more efficient,” said Pieper.

“There are a lot of uses for existing buildings,” said Pieper. “We’re trying to match needs and uses. These three buildings have a lot of synergy, and these are good uses for them.”