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Ryan Johnson, Published June 23 2013

NDSU Archives to move despite misgivings from former director

FARGO – North Dakota State University’s Archives is moving, 13 years after heavy summer rains flooded the NDSU library basement and forced the archives off campus.

The lease on its current space at 1305 19th Ave. N. was set to expire June 30, and North Dakota State College of Science won’t renew it because the school needs room to accommodate booming Fargo enrollment in the building, said Michele Reid, dean of libraries.

NDSCS has extended the lease through the end of the year to give them time to move out.

But former Archives Director John Bye, who retired in December 2011, said he’s worried the move will be another step down for the archives. Even when it reopens in its new location at the NDSU storage annex at 3601 7th Ave. N., it will still be off-campus, and the archives will face the prospect of another move because it will be in a leased building.

“Why go from one not great place to an even worse place?” he asked.

NDSCS Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs Harvey Link said the Wahpeton-based school has seen enrollment at its Fargo location triple in the past four years. He expects about 100 classes will be offered this fall to about 400 students in the 57,000-square-foot building, purchased by the NDSCS Alumni Foundation in 2011 from the NDSU Development Foundation.

When the archives moves out, NDSCS will reclaim the nearly 1,000-square-foot area to help meet rising demands. Link said the future of the space is still being planned, but possible uses include offices, student support rooms, or a bookstore or dining area.

“That’s a lot of need for a relatively small square footage,” he said. “There’s going to be some winnowing down.”

Bye said the space proved to be a less than ideal spot for the NDSU Archives.

“It was the area that they had used to remodel the rest of the building, so it was a staging area,” he said. “It was junky, it was dirty, tiles were missing, half the lights weren’t there, a lot of the ceiling tile wasn’t there, and there was no heat in there. What we got was really just the basics.”

Some improvements have been made, Bye said, but the space still lacks proper climate controls that are vital for a facility that preserves historical documents meant to be around for hundreds of years. Humidity levels can fluctuate wildly, rising above 70 percent in the summers and dropping to 20 percent in the coldest winter months, he said.

“That was always one issue, even before the flood, of what do you say to a potential donor that’s going to donate some valuable historical records or photographs that where you’re putting them is not the best environmental conditions for it?” he said.

Still, Bye said the future home of NDSU Archives – a building that formerly housed Knox Lumber and is also used to store the university’s surplus items – has even more inadequate environmental controls.

Interim Archives Director Trista Raezer said the NDSU Archives and Institute for Regional Studies will close to the public Aug. 1 to start preparing for the move. They need to be in the annex before their lease with NDSCS is up Dec. 30.

Raezer said it will remain closed at least through the end of the year, with the goal of reopening sometime in early 2014.

Reid said the university is preparing to hire an architect who will work with the archives staff to figure out construction needs at the new space. Plans are to upgrade it to be able to properly store archival material.

The archives already stores some of its overflow material in the annex, so the move will consolidate the collections, she said.

One disadvantage will be the loss of a bus route – the NDSCS building gained bus service about five years ago – but there is parking for visitors.

Reid said she still would like to get the NDSU Archives back on campus. But, for now, she said campus administrators have assured her they have a long-term lease at the off-campus storage annex.

NDSU spokeswoman Laura McDaniel said the university has leased the annex since 2008, and the lease was renewed in January for another five years. NDSU pays a monthly rent of $15,675.

“We really want to move the archives where it is centrally located,” Reid said. “However, given the space needs and given the fact that we do have limited resources in terms of space on campus, the administration felt that the space at Knox was optimal right now.”

Bye said he agreed with campus leaders after the flood in 2000 that the archives couldn’t move back into the library basement, where they would risk more flood damage. An engineering study found they couldn’t move upstairs – the upper floors of the library aren’t strong enough to hold archival documents, which are more tightly packed and heavier than library materials.

He said he believes the need for a permanent home on campus seems to have been lost in the shuffle since 2000.

“I think that there were so many other priorities or things on campus that administration felt more important,” he said. “They didn’t need to put any money into it to either move us or build some other facility for us. I think we were just a low priority, and I think they just thought, ‘Well, we’ll take care of that. That’s all we need to do.’ ”

Many details of the move still need to be finalized. For the latest updates and schedule for reopening, visit library.ndsu.edu/ndsu archives or call (701) 231-8914.

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