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Ryan Johnson, Published January 15 2013

North Dakota Legislature: NDSU, UND presidents support governor’s budget proposal

BISMARCK – North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani told legislators Tuesday that his presentation of a wish list for the next two years would be a quick one because of the school’s “exceptionally strong support” for Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s executive budget.

University of North Dakota President Robert Kelley echoed that sentiment, saying he was pleased the budget proposal released by the governor last month included funding for a critical renovation and expansion at the university’s School of Law, in addition to a major shift in the state’s higher education funding formula and money for other large construction projects on many of the state’s 11 campuses.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said Bresciani and Kelley weren’t the first campus leaders to say they had easy pitches to make because they support the budget. It’s a phenomenon he said prompted committee Vice Chairman Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, to jokingly comment that if everyone supports it, it must be “way too much money.”

Bowman, a senator since 1991, said normally every campus representative comes in and asks for four or five more “add-ons” that they want on top of the governor’s budget.

“It’s kind of encouraging to know that people are supportive of what’s been done before they have the hearing and we can live within that,” he said. “So, I think it’s a nice gesture that we finally all got together and decided we can live with this.”

There were no complaints from the UND and NDSU leaders at Tuesday’s meeting, which was a chance for them to outline recent successes and investments while also explaining why the construction funding in Dalrymple’s budget proposal is necessary to keep up with growing demand and changing circumstances.

Bresciani praised the governor for including full funding for a $29.6 million science, technology, engineering and mathematics classroom building that he said is NDSU’s top priority.

Once completed, it could free up space in cramped, aging buildings now being overused, he said, while also creating a “universal design” facility that will support instruction in several fields and be used much more than traditional, single-use buildings on campuses.

“I think it’s not only critical to NDSU, but I think it may provide a very usable model for future construction,” he said.

The building will allow NDSU to tear down an aging small building now on campus and also could alleviate the potentially “dangerous” conditions of other buildings used for STEM classroom space.

Bresciani also gave a construction update on the north end of Minard Hall, which collapsed in December 2009 in the midst of an $18 million expansion project. He said the recovery of that section is expected to be finished this summer, while most of the rest of the building has already been renovated and is in use.

Two lawsuits regarding the collapse are under way, but he said he couldn’t comment on those legal actions other than to say the cause for the collapse seems to be identified and it’s just a matter of who was responsible.

Kelley said the $12 million included in Dalrymple’s budget for the UND School of Law will address its “urgent need” for more space, resulting in a 30,000-square-foot addition and an overhaul of the existing building to help meet growing demand for lawyers in the state.

“I think it’s clear to all of us that the oil boom in western North Dakota has created needs as well as opportunities,” he said, adding that stress is being felt in many areas, including legal services.

Kelley said the school is now “filled to overflowing” and the aging facility isn’t equipped for today’s education, including distance learning options.

School of Law Dean Kathryn Rand said it’s an essential project for the 90-year-old building that’s only undergone one major improvement – the 1973 addition of a law library with “significant flaws,” including no sound barriers to make it a quiet study area.

The addition and renovation also will help address issues raised by the American Bar Association’s accreditation site visit in 2007, which highlighted a lack of enough classroom space and security issues. If legislators approve the governor’s recommendations, the renovation could begin in summer 2014, she said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587


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