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UND Med School project brings work for local contractors

Shawn Tinkler paints the trim on an office in the UND Medical School Wednesday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
Lonney Novak works on finishing lockers in an upper level classroom at the UND Med School. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

As construction workers put the finishing touches on the new UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences building, contractors and UND officials said the massive project has gone smoothly since it started two years ago.

And maybe most importantly, it has been on-schedule and on-budget.

"That's what we look for," said Dave Chakraborty, associate vice president for facilities management, parking and transportation at UND.

Contractors work on technology systems in the atrium area on the new UND Medical School under construction. photo by Eric Hylden The $124 million facility represents one of the single largest infrastructure investments by the state of North Dakota, made possible by the economic boom of the past few years, according to a state lawmaker. From highways to new schools, construction companies have been historically busy in recent years.

Tightened state budgets may reduce that pace, however. Russ Hanson, executive vice president of the Associated General Contractors of North Dakota, said this year is still poised to include plenty of highway projects, but "the anticipation for the likely smaller budgets for construction will be the next biennium."

"We never foresaw the oil price going drastically as low as it did, which funded a lot of these one-time projects, and who knows what will happen in the future," he said. "There's work to be done, so we're hopeful there will be resources to provide it."

State Sen. Ray Holmberg, a Grand Forks Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the state has invested $189 million in facilities on the UND campus over the last three sessions. He noted that was paid in cash rather than through bonding.

But decreased tax revenue, attributed to lower oil and farm commodity prices, will likely put a damper on new projects.

"I don't think it's going to be a session where we do a lot of construction," Holmberg said.

Local work

The medical school project was led by PCL Construction Services and Grand Forks-based Community Contractors. Six firms submitted proposals to be the construction manager for the project, UND said.

PCL is among the largest contractors in the country, and its Minneapolis and Grand Forks offices focus on higher education, manufacturing and tribal work, said Brad Hendrickson, construction manager at PCL. The company is also working on the Collaborative Energy Complex and a renovation of O'Kelly Hall at UND, and it has worked on projects for J.R. Simplot Co.

But the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences project, located at the corner of North Columbia Road and Gateway Drive, stands out. It's the largest single building permit the city of Grand Forks has issued, not accounting for inflation, said Bev Collings, the city's building and zoning administrator.

"I don't know if UND has ever done a project larger than the med school project," Chakraborty said. "It had to be designed and built to teach new doctors over the next 40, 50 years probably."

Hendrickson said last week they've accumulated almost 550,000 man hours constructing the building, and he estimated they peaked at nearly 300 workers on site on a given day. The four-story building includes 325,000 square feet of space.

"It's a big project anywhere in the country," he said. "It took a lot of effort on the designer's part, the owner's part and our part to get the project to where it is today."

It also brought work for a number of North Dakota companies, including Grand Forks-based firms such as C.L. Linfoot Co., Opp Construction, PS Doors and Anderson Steel Erection. JLG Architects was the lead architect, and Norby's and Hannaher's are supplying furniture, according to Jessica Sobolik, director of alumni and community relations for the medical school.

"I think (Dean Joshua Wynne) would tell you this project is for the people of North Dakota, and we certainly embraced that and tried to, where we could, engage as many local contractors as possible," Hendrickson said. In some cases, that meant splitting up packages between several contractors.

"There are a lot of instances where there's local participation," Hendrickson said.

Rod Syverson, owner of Anderson Steel, said using local contractors "keeps our economy going."

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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