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UND takes steps to demolish campus buildings

GRAND FORKS—The University of North Dakota could soon be tearing down another set of campus buildings.

The university notified the State Historical Society of North Dakota earlier this month of its intent to demolish Corwin/Larimore and Robertson/Sayre halls, a pair of academic buildings that make up the remaining physical trace of Wesley College, a now-defunct Methodist school whose properties were purchased by UND in 1965.

UND facilities chief Mike Pieper said Corwin/Larimore is now completely vacant after members of the Psychology Department transferred to the new College of Arts and Sciences facilities in Columbia Hall, the former UND medical school building. Robertson/Sayre still holds some IT functions, Pieper said, but those should be vacated by May.

Both halls were previously listed in a set of 13 buildings being pulled offline. UND oversaw the demolition of seven of those buildings last summer and, if all goes as planned, the two recently named halls could be torn down this summer along with Chandler Hall, the oldest building on campus, and a set of campus duplex and six-plex housing units along State Street and Northwestern Drive.

The letter to the State Historical Society is the first step in a public demolition process codified by state law. After receiving notice, the society provides to the university an official assessment of the historical considerations attached to the properties. UND would then forward that consultation, along with an assessment of the building's value, to the chancellor of the North Dakota University System. Depending on whether the value of the structure exceeds $250,000, either the chancellor or the State Board of Higher Education would make the final call on the demolition, with more expensive buildings falling under the authority of the board.

Both of the old Wesley College buildings are individually eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, said Lorna Meidinger, an architectural historian with the State Historical Society.

"It's already accepted that they're significant," Meidinger said. By way of their purpose and architecture, she said the halls contribute to the historical value of the UND campus, which is itself listed as a historic district with the national register. But, she added, "if the rest of UND wasn't there and the two buildings were, they'd still be significant."

Meidinger said Corwin/Larimore was built in 1908, with Robertson/Sayre following behind in about 1929-1930. She said the eventual partnership between UND and Wesley College, a private school focused on religious and music education, allowed more people to access higher education while bringing in additional donors to the public university.

"Both parties benefited from that relationship," Meidinger said.

The Strinden Center, a multipurpose building demolished by UND last summer, was the last facility installed on campus by a Wesley entity. Though the college had been long absorbed by the time of the center's 1987 groundbreaking, the newer structure was built and operated as the United Campus Ministry by a related organization. UND bought the ministry building after 1997.

Despite the independent historic significance of the two remaining Wesley-era halls, Meidinger said the regulatory process of the demolition will follow its usual course.

Other historic buildings on campus might get more of a reprieve. Pieper said buildings of past public concern—including Carnegie Hall, Babcock Hall, Gustafson Hall and Montgomery Hall—are currently included in the ongoing UND master planning effort for facilities and are being considered for potential long-term repurposing.

"We don't necessarily have the timing of it yet, but what that purpose would be is a question we're trying to answer," Pieper said, adding that the university had recently replaced the roof on Babcock to protect its interior. "We want to keep them, want to use them, want to repurpose them."

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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