The UND campus has been abuzz with recent construction projects, including the remodel of the Chester Fritz Library, the construction of the new Memorial Union and the Nistler College of Business and Public Administration building.

That buzz will continue with a planned renovation of Merrifield and Twamley halls, followed by the decommissioning and tearing down of a pair of other buildings.

The price tag for the renovation of Merrifield and Twamley is set to come in at $79 million, according to UND administrators. A large appropriation from the Legislature’s recent special session will offset the majority of that cost.

On Monday, Nov. 15, Gov. Doug Burgum signed off on a spending bill that will bring more than $62 million for construction and research projects. The money comes from the state’s allocation of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds. UND administrators are excited about how those funds will help carry out the projects.

UND spokesman David Dodds said renovating Merrifield will consolidate the College of Arts and Sciences on the university’s quad. Students are taking classes in Merrifield, but also in Columbia Hall, along Columbia Road. The renovations are part of UND's long-term plan to reduce its footprint by 320,000 square feet, by eventually demolishing Gamble and Columbia halls. Doing so will eliminate about $120 million in needed repairs to those buildings.

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“This is really exciting news for the UND campus,” said Dodds. “It's going to do a lot of great things for us – a lot of much-needed things.”

Once begun, people in Merrifield will migrate to Gamble Hall during the renovations. When completed, they will move back and then work will begin on turning Twamley into a faculty office building. The project likely will get underway when work on the Nistler building is completed in the spring.

DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Foundation, said there is a philanthropic component to the remodeling projects. Funding from the Legislature for Merrifield and Twamley halls is capped at $50 million. Zink said the team is already gearing up to reach out to donors and friends of the university for the remaining $29 million for the projects.

“Our alumni love these projects where they get to partner with the state,” she said. “It's such a win-win for the university. We greatly appreciate the Legislature and the governor putting that money in there to partner with our alumni and create a wonderful impact for our students."

Zink said people frequently tell her about their memories of Merrifield Hall, and they often say it’s their favorite site on campus. For decades, the stately building has been a centerpiece on UND’s campus, its architecture inspiring respect for the education students receive there.

Built in 1929, the building has had renovations over the years, including the installation of an elevator and fire alarms in 1974, but never a full-blown overhaul, according to Brian Larson, director of construction management at UND. Larson said the refit of Merrifield will include updated classrooms, and all the needed building infrastructure. The building also needs an ADA-compliant entrance.

Other appropriations

Of the state’s appropriation for UND, $10 million has been set aside for a space education and research initiative. The initiative will be a multi-disciplinary approach to research that will better position the university to partner with government entities like the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security. The state funding will be lumped with another $4 million appropriated by the Legislature during the previous regular session.

The funds will be used to create an unmanned aerial vehicle and satellite materials lab. Equipment, including a high-resolution transmission electron microscope and nanofoundry, will need to be purchased.

According to Brad Rundquist, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, a nanofoundry is used in the production of nanoscale products. Products at this scale measure roughly 1 to 100 nanometers in size. By comparison, human red blood cells are about 7,000 nanometers wide and human hair is 50,000 to 100,000 nanometers wide.

“The recent strategic investments by UND and the state of North Dakota allow us to expand our materials research group by adding experts in next-generation 'smart' materials with premier applications in the design of space and UAS platforms and sensors,” Rundquist said. “We also will be able to acquire the sophisticated tools we need to develop, test, and deploy smart materials, and we are ideally positioned to do that because of our collaborations with the College of Engineering and Mines, the College of Aerospace Sciences and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.”

As for the SMHS, more than $2 million has been set aside for research into hyperbaric oxygen therapy. According to Joshua Wynne, dean of the SMHS, the school will partner with Dakota Medical Foundation and Essentia Health in Fargo to study how the treatment may help treat diseases that have not been otherwise successfully treated, including the so-called “long COVID” aftereffects.

“We're very excited about it, but it's very preliminary because the (spending bill) was just signed,” Wynne said. “We've been working with DMF and Essentia but there are a lot of details to be worked out yet.”