DICKINSON, N.D.-Work on the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Dickinson must start by the end of the year or risk losing funding and the president of the university where it's located said it will be done and also that he's in favor of the splitting up of the library and a museum in Medora as it's "the best of two worlds."
The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation made the decision on the two sites at a meeting last month in Minneapolis.
It's been a lot of time and talk, but now that the decision has been made and plans are underway to start building the library, Dickinson State University's President Thomas Mitzel spoke about the vision for the library and how it will affect the university.
"One of the most important factors that we left the board meeting in Minneapolis with was that we were going forward as one project and two different sites. It's not that uncharacteristic," Mitzel said. "The Gerald Ford Presidential Library has two different sites ... the intellectual piece and the museum piece."
For about a year, Dickinson had been the only proposed home for the library and museum. However, recent changes in the Foundation's board sparked discussion about incorporating a historic Medora location into the project's plans.
Now the project is even larger than originally planned, with a price tag speculated at close to $150 million, and a library that needs to be built as soon as possible.
Materials put out by the Foundation prior to their meeting in March suggested that the library would be a 24,000-square-foot facility featuring an auditorium, office space and a timeline that would see construction beginning by November of 2018 and concluding in November 2019.
"I think the time was worth it (on making a decision on the two sites). It does put us in a bit of a crink, we do have to be vertical by the end of 2018 and I have no angst that we will meet that," said Mitzel, who noted that the building committee has been meeting already trying to get the ball rolling.
"I think we really get the best of both worlds, it's two buildings, one project," he said.
Mitzel said that they don't have any design plans to show at the moment, but that due to the library's purpose as an intellectual and learning center, it won't be too complicated or difficult to build.
Mitzel was hesitant to give too many specifics about the library's interactive elements, but said there will be some.
"I don't want to speak for everybody on the committee ... but I would assume that yes, we would have interactive areas where people can go in and read about the workings of Theodore Roosevelt," Mitzel said. "We may have areas for exhibits ... that we can switch out every few months or so, to keep it vibrant."
It will be important, Mitzel said, that the two buildings link to each other in meaningful ways to capture dual aspects of Roosevelt's character- his love of the outdoors and his intellectual gigantism.
"We want to create an experience that ties the two of them together very closely, so that ... you'll want to see both," Mitzel said. "If you're more an outdoors, hiking person you may start in Medora ... if you are more the intellectual type you may start here and then wander your way to Medora, but we really do hope it becomes one entity in people's minds."
While the library will now be hosted on DSU land, it is not a DSU-owned building-and while Mitzel stressed that point, he said that they still intend for students to use the facility.
"We've discussed this to a great extent, it is first and foremost a presidential library. It is not a DSU building, it is a presidential library," Mitzel said. "With that, however, to have an international digital archive on campus and not to take advantage of that, we would be remiss. We'd be letting our students down. My dream is to have our students doing actual research in the presidential papers research project in some manner."
"The feedback I've gotten ... has been quite positive. I think for the community to understand that this building, with its intellectual slant, is going to reach out to education at every level, beginning K-12 and beyond and before," Mitzel said. "That we're really here to make the community ... a large part of what we're doing, it's not just going to be an isolated building."
Mitzel said he encounters many who assume that the popular Roosevelt, who was both a statesman and explorer, already had his own library. But he doesn't-and to build it in North Dakota means something, Mitzel said.
"For us to have that chance to build that monument for our 26th president here in North Dakota, where in his own words had it not been for his years in North Dakota he would not have become president, I think that's good for everybody," Mitzel said. "Having the intellectual portion of it centered on the DSU campus gives everybody an opportunity to do so much."