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The Women’s Center on UND's campus. Submitted photo.

UND plans to demolish 2 buildings, says decision not final

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UND buildings housing the Women’s Center and the Era Bell Thompson Multicultural Center are headed for demolition, according to the university.

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University spokesman Peter Johnson said it’s still very early in the process and that the university will “go through all the correct mechanisms” before taking action.

This includes getting approval from the State Board of Higher Education or the state university system’s chancellor, from the state fire marshal and from the state historical society.

“Right now we’re just sort of doing due diligence and clearing the deck,” Johnson said.

Peg O’Leary, coordinator of the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission, said the university’s actions are disheartening.

“If they’re moving those programs out of the buildings over spring break, then those decisions are already made and they’re not involving us early in the process,” she said. “At this point we look obstructionist, and we’re not. We want the best for the campus and the houses.”

The Women’s Center will reside in McCannel Hall and the Multicultural Center will move to the Memorial Union in fall 2014. Once an associate vice president for diversity is appointed in the coming weeks, that person will assess whether those locations are working out.

Nothing final

But Johnson said there is no timeline in place for demolition and specified they are “slated” for demolition — meaning there is still the possibility the buildings will survive.

“Putting them on a list doesn’t necessarily mean they will be (demolished), unless something prevents it,” he said.

Earlier this month, UND President Robert Kelley identified eight buildings that would be “taken offline” in the future. That list included the Women’s Center and the Multicultural Center, as well as Chandler Hall, Babcock Hall, the Strinden Center, the Center for Community Engagement, student residence Dakota Hall and 314 Cambridge.

The Women’s Center, built in the early 1900s as a residential home, is on the National Register of Historic Places because of it was home to a fraternity or sorority in the 1920s and 1930s. The Multicultural Center, another former residence, is not on the register because it was built much later, in 1940.

O’Leary has been in both buildings frequently and she said she has not seen or heard of the buildings being structurally unsound. “In other words, the roof doesn’t leak and the floors aren’t creaking.”

More input?

She said she would like to see more student involvement in the process.

“I really feel like when the students are taken out, the buildings have no future,” she said. “I’m not saying leaving the students in them will save them, I’m just saying I think the process has not been handled well.”

But Gashaw Lemma, who uses the Multicultural Center for meetings, said he didn’t mind not being involved in the decision. “I think it is a good move because when wintertime comes, most students are coming to the student union anyway, so it’s easier to access.”

Lemma is vice president of the African Student Union.

O’Leary said the issue isn’t about the demolition of the buildings, but rather, the fact that UND administrators are proceeding without enough input from students, faculty and the community.

“I just think we all need to be reminded that these buildings belong to the population of North Dakota,” she said. “The administrators have been hired as caretakers.”

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Anna Burleson
Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact Burleson with story ideas or tips by either phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. More examples of her work can be found at grandforksherald.com.
(701) 780-1114
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