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Talk, before tearing it down

Doug Burgum believes North Dakota State University's new downtown campus holds a lesson for local leaders dealing with historic preservation issues: Talk it out before you tear it down. Friday, Burgum will join NDSU officials in celebrating the $...

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Doug Burgum believes North Dakota State University's new downtown campus holds a lesson for local leaders dealing with historic preservation issues:

Talk it out before you tear it down.

Friday, Burgum will join NDSU officials in celebrating the $10 million renovation project that spawned NDSU Downtown, the new home to the university's visual art, architecture and landscape architecture programs.

Burgum bought the 1903 Robb-Lawrence building in June 2000, just hours before it was to be demolished by the previous owner, Wisconsin-based School Specialties Inc.

After making some repairs, the NDSU alum reached an agreement with the NDSU Development Foundation and city of Fargo to donate the building to the university in what amounted to a $1.5 million gift.

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Burgum said the first step in saving the ailing structure was to "stabilize the patient."

"You can always knock it down later," he said. "Financially, and even materials-wise sometimes, it's impossible to replace."

The Arthur, N.D., native and senior vice president of Microsoft Business Solutions refers to the razing of the historic Cass County Jail and sheriff's residence last April as examples of historic preservation faux pas.

"Part of the rationale for knocking them down was, 'We don't know what we're going to do with them.' Well, then leave them up while we have the dialogue," Burgum said. "The buildings weren't owned by the county commissioners. They're owned by the citizens of the county."

Burgum also expressed concern that the same thing may happen to Ralph's Corner Bar, the lone holdout in the city of Moorhead's downtown redevelopment buyout plan.

On Friday, though, his attention will be focused on NDSU Downtown.

The former Northern School Supply building at 650 NP Ave. "jumped off the map" with historic preservation potential, and NDSU offered the most exciting use for the building, he said.

Burgum, who took architectural history courses while earning his bachelor's degree at NDSU, admitted his expectations for the project were "extraordinarily high."

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The finished product, he said, is "spectacular."

Burgum praised NDSU for incorporating the latest art and architecture technology into the 75,830-square-foot building. The facility includes studios, classrooms, a wood shop, digital media room, gallery, sculpture area and the new Tri-College University office.

"They dreamt some incredible dreams and then went and made them come true," he said.

NDSU President Joseph Chapman said the facility brings the art and architecture programs to a new level and cements the partnership between NDSU and the community. "It's a huge piece of defining us as a metropolitan land-grant university."

Contractors are working feverishly to finish the building and grounds in time for the dedication at 3:30 p.m. Friday. Tours will follow.

Both Chapman and Burgum expect the facility to garner national interest from students, artists and communities.

But Burgum is also hoping for something more. "A dream of mine would be that the school ... not only produce great students, but also have such an impact on the thinking on developers, on community zoning, on individuals, that the influence coming out of those areas actually shapes Fargo into being an increasingly beautiful place to live work and play," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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