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Reaching for the sky: UND aerospace building starts to see finishing design touches

UND Aerospace Foundation Chief Operating Officer Chuck Pineo shows the progress of construction on the new UND Aerospace building, Robin Hall recently. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 4
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UND Aerospace Foundation Chief Operating Officer Chuck Pineo and ICON project architect Tom Wesley look over the new skyway that connects Robin Hall to surrounding buildings including Ryan Hall and Skalicky Tech Incubator. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald3 / 4
A 125 foot tall glass tower is the focal point of the new Robin Hall Aerospace building at UND. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald4 / 4

In a few weeks, UND's new aerospace building is going to look a lot different.

The $21.5 million project was mostly rough edges, exposed wiring and concrete Thursday but UND Aerospace Foundation Chief Operating Officer Chuck Pineo said the building is going to look a lot more put-together very soon.

"It's coming together really well," he said.

ICON Architectural Group has overseen the building's construction and project architect Tom Wesley said two 53-foot trailers full of furniture arrive Monday.

Many of the building's internal glass walls that block off study space, offices and other nooks are also going up soon.

A bank of windows make up the north side of Robin Hall at the entrance to the newest Aerospace building on the UND campus.

The building's biggest statement is a 125-foot-tall glass tower north of the building's main entrance. The tower will be backlit with color-changing LED lights and visible from Interstate 29.

"It also has a little aviation look to it," he said. "It's tower-themed, and it's also a pretty good billboard for the university."

Construction started in fall 2014 and the 66,000-square-foot building opens for students this fall. An official Robin Hall ribbon-cutting is scheduled July 26.

The building will house UND's budding unmanned aerial systems programs. UND was the first school in the United States to offer a degree program of that kind.

High-tech design

The first floor is made of common areas and classrooms while the second is a main thoroughfare with classrooms that connect via skywalk to surrounding buildings, including Ryan Hall and the Skalicky Tech Incubator.

UND Aerospace Foundation Chief Operating Officer Chuck Pineo and ICON project architect Tom Wesley look over the new skyway.

There are eight classrooms throughout the building and designers continue debating what to do with a large wall on one end of the first floor common area. Pineo said it could be used as a projection screen if painted a color other than dark gray, which it is now. It could also serve as the backdrop for a portable stage.

"We'll have a variety of different furniture to study or hang out," he said. "It will all be set up for students to study between classes."

The first floor is also home to a legends wall, which will feature a backlit display of John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences supporters and "legends of aviation," Pineo said. A glass-walled school store will be open across from the wall.

The building also has a UAS flight lab

"The weather and winds here make it difficult to do a lot of that consistently outside, but inside we can," Pineo said.

Large LED screens for messages, patterns or photos run up the wall adjacent to the staircase from the first to second floor over the large common area. "It's really an active canvas, so whatever we want to display we can," Wesley said.

The third floor is mostly administrative offices, student services and the Aerospace Foundation and the fourth is for hosting events, like large banquets. A large conference room on the end has two walls made almost entirely of windows that face northwest.

The basement of the building is made up of largely unclaimed space that Pineo said will house research endeavors. A ramp from the ground floor to the basement makes for easy large equipment removal and walls can be installed or removed throughout the large open space.

Parking exists around the building and Wesley said conversations about whether to expand the lots are ongoing, but any decisions will ultimately be made by UND.

The state authorized UND to spend up to $25 million on Robin Hall, according to the UND website.

The building was funded by donors including Si Robin and Mary E. Bazar, the heads of aerospace antenna company Sensor Systems, longtime UND benefactor James Ray, and contributions from the UND Aerospace Foundation and North Dakota Higher Education Challenge Fund.

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 her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.