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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published February 01 2013

UND president balks at plan for University System office space on Grand Forks campus

BISMARCK - A proposal to create office space for North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani on the University of North Dakota campus is being challenged by UND President Robert Kelley.

A memo sent Jan. 18 from Kelley to Shirvani pointed out the Legislature in 2011 passed House Bill 1003, which allocated $11.5 million from the state’s general fund for the University System and UND to build a joint information technology building in Grand Forks.

The building was to be dedicated as an IT facility and space to consolidate IT staff to one location, Kelley said.

The original floor plan included 24 cubicles for IT staff members. IT staff currently are spread out around the campus, according to Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks.

But the new proposal would displace those cubicles and replace them with a 486-square-foot office for Shirvani, a 566-square-foot board room, a 529-square-foot reception area, a 271-square-foot office and a bathroom and kitchenette.

Kelley’s concern was the University System did not have authority to approve and proceed with any changes to the building without legislative approval.

But an email from Duaine Espegard, president of the state Board of Higher Education, to Shirvani said he was confused with Kelley’s letter and understood the project was a University System project, which had authority over UND.

He said the change does not result in a change to cost or size, indicating no other approval would be necessary.

“The SBHE believes your presence, and that of NDUS staff, on the UND campus in support of IT and other system wide needs is critical,” Espegard said in his email to Shirvani. “I am asking you to direct Bob Kelley to proceed with the project post haste, as it has been approved by the Chancellor.”

Espegard concluded his email to Shirvani by writing that the board has directed him to have a greater presence on the eastern North Dakota campuses, and the new proposal will help facilitate that expectation.

Holmberg, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the Legislature was unaware of the recent proposed changes to the building that he says it approved to only help expand information technology and consolidate the staff members into one building. Unclear whether the University System has the ability to make the changes itself, a hearing is scheduled for Thursday morning.

“When you have a new building with 24 cubicles and replace them with the current proposal, that needs to be explained in a public hearing,” he said.

“Higher education, rightly or wrongly, has been under fire and to have this egg laid in front of us during the legislative session when we are trying to do our best for students and campuses is unfortunate,” Holmberg said.