UND’s Memorial Union project is back on track after the State Board of Higher Education approved a new funding structure for the building during a special meeting held Thursday morning.
The project, which was briefly put on hold, is moving forward with a slightly lowered student impact. The main funding for the $80 million building will remain the same, with a majority of the project being paid for with increases to student fees.
In the spring, student fees overall will increase. Though the approved student increase, specifically, for the new Memorial Union, was $14 per credit or $168 each semester, UND’s student leadership worked to reduce the overall increase for students to $9.20 per credit.
However, UND Vice President for Finance & Operations Jed Shivers said the university, at the direction of Interim President Joshua Wynne, also worked to lower student fees in other areas. UND is adding more of its own money to the project. In addition to covering the overhead and direct operating expenses for non-student use of the Union, UND has agreed to pay $250,000 a year for operating expenses.
A potentially lower interest rate and the retirement of debt on the current Memorial Union could further reduce student fees in the future.
Students approved the new $80 million Memorial Union project in November. The project was put on pause last month after Wynne raised concerns about its impact on student debt.
North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott expressed additional concerns about the project. Hagerott said South Dakota’s move to offer in-state tuition to North Dakota residents could have an impact on enrollment at UND, which may affect the number of students paying for the project. Changes in online education could also affect the student body make up.
“My concerns with Memorial Union project is that the underlying demographic-economic landscape may be changing significantly since work on this project began some years ago, and even since the current students voted to place obligations on future students who were unable to vote for their future indebtedness,” he wrote.
Hagerott had suggested the next president, who will likely be named by December, should have an opportunity to shape the project. However, the board voted unanimously to move ahead on the new building.
Wynne thanked the State Board and Hagerott for “their careful consideration” and approval of the revamped proposal. He also commended Shivers and his staff for their work on the revised plan.
“It’s always been important to me that decisions that impact the cost of education for our students satisfy two questions: First, are the decisions in the best interest of our students? Second, are there other options that might help us do more to reduce student debt?” Wynne said in a statement. “Our updated proposal to the SBHE answered those questions by reducing the proposed increase in student fees by 55 percent when compared to the original plan.”
The SBHE also approved UND to raze the building during Thursday’s meeting. Shivers said the building, which has been a student gathering spot since it was built in 1951, could begin coming down as soon as next week.