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According to survey N.D. agencies short on space

BISMARCK – State agencies could use up to 55,500 square feet of additional space in the Bismarck area, with the judicial branch accounting for nearly half of that, according to a survey presented to a legislative committee Wednesday.

“We do need some more space,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle told the Legislature’s interim Government Services Committee.

Committee members are trying to determine what to do with the survey information and whether it would be cheaper to build new facilities or continue to lease additional space.

Sen. Ron Sorvaag, R-Fargo, the committee’s chairman, said he intends to have the panel meet twice more before the 2015 legislative session.

“If we’re going to do anything, we need to start moving,” he said.

The survey found the judicial branch has the greatest space shortfall, needing 24,660 square feet for additional offices, workstations, a conference room, storage and staff training, and to meet accessibility requirements.

State Court Administrator Sally Holewa called the needs estimate “very conservative.”

Some short-term relief is in sight. The Supreme Court has been offered about 4,000 square feet in the Capitol’s judicial wing that will be freed up this summer when the Information Technology Department vacates just over 10,000 square feet and relocates to new digs in north Bismarck.

Holewa said the court appreciates the additional space and will put it to good use, but it’s not enough to meet current and future needs.

Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, asked what will happen if the court doesn’t get all of the space it needs. Holewa said court operations would continue to splinter off, and she added that the concern isn’t just about the cost of renting.

“There’s definitely lost efficiency,” she said.

Clearing out additional space in the judicial wing is one solution, but it would require relocating “significant” portions of the departments of Health and Human Services, Holewa said.

The other solution would be to build the Supreme Court a new building, which Holewa and VandeWalle said they would prefer to be on the Capitol grounds to maintain the image of a united three branches of government.

About $4 million is available in the Capitol Building Trust Fund, said Pam Sharp, director of the Office of Management and Budget. The fund had a balance of about $3.2 million at the end of 2013.

“So, not a whole lot for what we’re talking about,” Sorvaag said.

The attorney general’s office – already spread out at five locations beyond the Capitol, four of which are leased – reported the second-greatest need in the survey, seeking another 9,500 square feet to accommodate expanded Bureau of Criminal Investigation staff, IT staff and legal staff.

Besides the Supreme Court, four other agencies that will gain space from the Information Technology Department leaving the judicial wing are the secretary of state’s office, state auditor’s office and Indian Affairs Commission. About 4,000 square feet also has been offered to the North Dakota University System, said John Boyle, OMB’s director of facility management.

A 30-year master plan for the Capitol complex was adopted in 2000, and some of it has been implemented, Boyle said. But the plan hasn’t been updated, and OMB will request that it be revised or that a new plan be commissioned in the 2015-17 biennium, he said.

“We’re on a 14-year-old master plan,” Sorvaag said. “North Dakota’s changed a lot.”

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at