NDSU buildings win legislative support, but still face final approval

NDSU Dunbar Hall on Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Matt Hellman / The Forum
NDSU Dunbar Hall on Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Matt Hellman / The Forum

FARGO — North Dakota State University’s top two building priorities — a new chemistry building and a new agricultural research and classroom center — appear to have the solid backing of state legislators.

The Senate overwhelmingly gave bonding authority for the two projects, a replacement for Dunbar Hall, a chemistry lab building that for years has been considered a fire safety hazard, and a replacement for Harris Hall, an agricultural research and instruction building.

The Senate passed the higher education bonding bill 46-0 on Feb. 8. Final authorization would come with House approval and the signature of Gov. Doug Burgum.

So far, at least, legislators strongly support both projects, said NDSU President Dean Bresciani.

Several fires have started in laboratories in Dunbar Hall, and administrators and Fargo Fire Department officials have said the building fails to meet current fire safety codes and poses a safety hazard.

“It is a fire and life safety project,” Bresciani said on Wednesday, Feb. 20.

Lawmakers years ago approved a replacement for Dunbar, built in 1964, but that approval was subject to an oil revenue target that didn’t materialize.

In committee hearings this session, Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was especially supportive of replacing Dunbar, noting that the cost of a new building keeps rising, Bresciani said.

Back in 2014, the estimated cost of replacing Dunbar was $45.9 million. The current estimate, and the amount approved by the Senate, is $51.2 million.

The chemistry department has been pushing for a new building for more than 20 years. A 2014 analysis estimated the cost of needed repairs for the building at $7.9 million — 87 percent of the building’s estimated $9.1 million value at the time.

A $60 million agricultural products center would replace Harris Hall and the meats lab in Shepherd Hall, both built in the 1950s. The building would be built with state funding of $54 million and $6 million in private contributions.

Senators, agreeing with agriculture industry leaders, agreed to fund the Harris Hall replacement even though it was not on the State Board of Higher Education’s priority list, Bresciani said.

“But state business leaders saw it as a very important project to the state’s agriculture industry,” he said. The board supports the project, but members decided they could place only one building for every campus on the priority list, Bresciani said.

“They try to be equitable to all campuses,” he said.

The current ag facilities are “substandard” and do not meet current health, safety, food grade and building codes, administrators have said.

If the buildings win final approval, NDSU will move “absolutely as soon as possible” on the projects, beginning with architectural design drawings, hopefully this summer, followed by construction, Bresciani said.

The replacement for Dunbar Hall would be located north of the existing building, where a parking lot now stands. The Dunbar site would become green space, though perhaps in the future could be the site for another building, Bresciani said.

The new agricultural building would be built on 18th Street North, just south of the greenhouse complex.

The bill also includes $10 million in improvements to the Northern Crops Institute at NDSU.