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Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Published January 26 2014

UND aerospace school plans new building

GRAND FORKS – The University of North Dakota aerospace school aims to break ground this spring on a new building, with the goal of attracting businesses that want to be part of the university’s growing aerospace research and development conglomerate.

Bruce Smith, dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, called it “a nice statement about the good things that have happened” at the school.

Some of the new space will provide a secure area for research into unmanned aircraft systems and other projects that need security, according to state documents. Other space will house research facilities for air traffic control, Smith said.

Total cost for what has been tabbed the Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research, could be as high as $25 million, UND officials told state lawmakers last year. But Smith said Friday that the cost could be trimmed and most of it will be privately raised.

The proposed 65,000-square-foot building will be connected to Ryan Hall on the far west end of campus.

Ownership of the building will be under the UND Aerospace Foundation, a private nonprofit group formed to help the Odegard school grow, state documents say. Operating costs will be paid by the university using existing funds and any funds raised through research activities in the building.

So far, the Aerospace Foundation has been promised a $7.5 million gift over three years from a couple involved in an aviation-related company, who, while not UND alumni, are big fans of the university, Smith said. He declined to divulge their names.

The foundation is providing another $3.5 million of its own funds.

“So we have $11 million, cash in the bank, for that building,” Smith said. “Right now, we are trying to figure out just how big a building we can have.”

Some money from the state’s Education Challenge Fund could be involved. Last year, the Legislature created the fund to match private donations, with the state paying $1 for every $2 donated with a cap of $10 million for UND. Earlier this month, the UND Foundation announced that it had raised enough to get a $3.3 million match.

But Smith said construction will begin no matter the amount of funding from the state.

The Odegard school, founded in 1968, has not had a new building since Clifford Hall was constructed in 1991, Smith said.

The school’s student population has grown to about 2,000, including 1,750 undergraduates, according to Smith, who became dean 14 years ago. In the past three years, the increase has been mostly in post-graduate programs, with student numbers growing from about 100 to 250.

“That is where the growth is, and the research that goes with it,” he said. More space is needed for labs, including room for aircraft and other large things and rooms for researchers and professors, he said.

From its beginning as a flight school, the Odegard school has now grown to five departments, each with master’s and doctoral degrees, Smith said, “rivaling only the medical school.”

UND’s UAS research program can also look forward to development of the Grand Sky UAS technology park at Grand Forks Air Force Base and the state’s recent designation as a federal test site for unmanned aircraft.