BISMARCK – The clash between North Dakota conservatism and the desire for a statelier governor's residence surfaced again Tuesday as members of the public got their chance to comment on the $5 million project's design.
In the end, the nine-member Capitol Grounds Planning Commission unanimously adopted a design that consists of a one-story private residence facing Fourth Street connected to a two-story public space facing the Capitol mall, recognizing that minor design changes may be made.
But before voting for the concept, commission member Lonnie Laffen, an architect and state senator from Grand Forks, said lawmakers who voted last spring to build a new governor's residence wanted it to reflect North Dakota's proud people and felt that the current residence is "a bit underwhelming."
He said those with goals of a stately and grand residence "would never build a one-story house."
"I don't know how we get to stately and grand on Fourth Street without going to two stories," he said.
State Rep. Jerry Kelsh, D-Fullerton, said the commission discussed that topic at length at its last meeting, which Laffen missed.
"We want it to look practical. We want it to look pretty much like North Dakota is," Kelsh said.
Lawmakers voted in April to spend up to $4 million in public funds to demolish the existing 55-year-old, one-story residence in the southwest corner of Capitol grounds and build new as long as $1 million in private donations can be raised. A fundraising committee needs to secure $500,000 before construction can start.
Committee co-chair Jim Poolman said Tuesday that a big donation will be announced Wednesday and he's "very confident" the committee will reach its goal of raising $500,000 by the end of the year.
"There's very good response to the project," he said. "People want to be involved with it."
The roughly 17,700-square-foot residence will be considerably larger than the existing 10,000-square-foot residence that was completed in 1960 and has issues with security, asbestos, a leaky flat roof and a lack of handicapped accessibility. It also will be built to last 100 years, using limestone and granite to tie in with other buildings on the grounds, as well as brick, project architect Chris Hawley of Fargo said.
He said it combines the best of both worlds, with a stately appearance on the mall side and a "scale-appropriate" look facing the residential neighborhood.
Jon Wagar of Valley City, who works in building materials and hopes to sell some for the project, told the commission he heard from one Democrat that the residence needs to be "more iconic," and got the same reaction from some GOP lawmakers.
"I understand we're dealing with conservative North Dakotans, conservative North Dakota values," he said, adding that he found the adopted design "very attractive."
Bismarck resident Darrell Wetzel questioned the flat roofs – Hawley clarified that they're all sloped to some degree – and retaining walls and asked about snow removal and parking.
"I guess when I look at these nice pretty pictures, the first thing that jumps in my mind is usability," he said.
Hawley said the design improves security for the first family by more clearly dividing the private and public space, which will accommodate gatherings of up to 48 people. But Laffen questioned the separation, saying the two spaces should be more symbiotic.
"I think when you come to the governor's residence, you want to come to the governor's residence, not a building attached to it," Laffen said.
Hawley said the idea is that there are different levels of privacy.
"The first family gets to decide how they want to do that," he said.
Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, said she liked the basic design but called the attached four-car garage "ugly" on all three residence options, suggesting perhaps two attached and two detached stalls.
State Facility Management Director John Boyle said the project will now go into the design development phase, with construction documents being drawn up and advertising for a construction manager. Officials hope to have the residence ready for the first family by Thanksgiving 2017.