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Demolition of historic Mayville State University dorm to begin

East Hall, a 92-year-old dormitory that flanks Old Main at Mayville State University, will begin coming down this week. But its legacy won't fade anytime soon. MSU alumni have recovered some precious pieces of the place that legend says was haunt...

Mayville State University Vice-President Steve Bensen, left, and President Gary Hagen talk about a building plan for the university that would replace vacant East Hall, background, and West Hall with a modern efficient building connected to an existing complex. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

East Hall, a 92-year-old dormitory that flanks Old Main at Mayville State University, will begin coming down this week.

But its legacy won't fade anytime soon.

MSU alumni have recovered some precious pieces of the place that legend says was haunted by the ghost of a resident who died in the women's dorm long ago.

Those relics -- oak wainscoting from the second floor, five-panel doors with original brass hardware and oak trim as well as hardwood flooring -- will be part of a new MSU Alumni Center that will be housed in a refurbished Northwest Hall, another historic building on campus.

Northwest Hall was severely damaged in 1997, when pipes froze and burst, heaving the hardwood floors.


"It's a building that will come back to life, not just for the college, but for the community," said Doug Anderson, a Mayville native and 1974 MSU graduate who has taught at Cavalier (N.D.) High School for the past 36 years. He grew up 2 blocks from the campus.

The alumni group is more than halfway toward its goal for the $900,000 project, which Anderson hopes will be completed within two years.

The refurbished building likely will include a history room, where memorabilia from East and West halls, as well as other parts of campus, can be displayed.

West Hall, across the courtyard on the other side of Old Main, will be torn down, too, likely in late 2011, said Steven Bensen, MSU vice president of business affairs.

Building projects

The demolition and construction projects are just part of a multimillion-dollar campus makeover, designed to reduce deferred maintenance on campus buildings by more than 60 percent, from $21 million to about $8 million.

East and West halls represented a major portion of that deferred maintenance.

In 2007, the North Dakota Legislature rejected plans to restore both buildings.


The cost would have been about $4 million for each building, according to the most recent estimates.

Together, the four-story East and West halls total about 60,000 square feet. While well-built, the two buildings have virtually no insulation. Annual heating costs have totaled about $100,000 in recent years.

East Hall closed in May 2008, with students living there moving to Berg Hall.

West Hall, once a dormitory, now houses offices and classrooms, along with the Traill County Technology Center, an incubator for local business startups.

In 2009, the Legislature approved several MSU construction projects:

- Agassiz Hall: It's a $3.6 million to $3.7 million project to convert the 288-room dormitory into a combination of two-bedroom suites and apartments with a total occupancy of 144. About three-fourths of the complex will be suites, with the remainder converted to apartments. The West Wing is closed for remodeling. It is expected to be reopened by this fall. The North Wing will close at the end of the spring semester, with plans to complete and reopen the facility in January 2011. It is being financed through a 20-year revenue bond.

- New coal-fired power plant: The $5.5 million facility became operational in mid-December. The project is designed to save money, with savings covering the project cost over the next 15 years.

- Library-Science Building addition: The project includes a 14,000-square-foot addition to the present library-science facility. Bid opening is March 16. Construction is expected to begin in May and be completed by August 2011.


MSU has 824 students, including 469 full time, according to the 2010 spring enrollment report. That compares with 815 students, 597 full time, in 2005.

MSU President Gary Hagen and Bensen said the campus projects are part of a downsizing effort to better meet the needs of students and the community.

Comstock Construction, based in Wahpeton, N.D., will demolish East Hall at a cost of about $120,000.

JLG Architects, Fargo, is designing the construction projects, including the Northwest Hall renovation.

Preservation try

Old Main, as well as East and West halls, are part of a Mayville State University historic district that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Old Main, the university's central administration building, was built in two phases, in 1894 and in 1905-07. It's the oldest building on campus.

West Hall was built in 1907-09, while East Hall was built in 1917-18.


"East Hall is one of two identical neo-classical dormitories which face one another across campus on either side of Old Main," the historic register notes. "All three buildings dominate the south 'front' end of campus."

"It's just a beautiful layout of buildings. They're classic pieces of architecture," Anderson said. "It was intriguing, too. They always said it was haunted. Her name was Esther. Sometimes, girls said they heard her calling out."

Hagen and other officials attempted to preserve the historic dorms, soliciting ideas and proposals from the community, as well as from alumni.

"The best opportunity, it seemed, might be for housing," Bensen said. "We thought it would be good for senior housing because it was close to the college library, the fitness center, extracurricular activities and sports venues."

They searched for grants to help restore both East and West halls. They figured rent could pay for half the project.

"Those kinds of scenarios could work, but they couldn't cash-flow on their own," he said. "Nothing really came to fruition."

Anderson said alumni tried to find funding sources to save the buildings, too.

"Our graduates, most of them teachers, don't have the financial means to address that," he said. "Then, when the decision was finally made to take it down, there was an effort to save parts of the building."


Anderson's vision for Northwest Hall is to create an atmosphere something like that of the J. Lloyd Stone Alumni Center at UND. Anderson's family met with UND officials at the center a few years ago when their son, Matt, was being recruited by the UND football team.

Although Matt ultimately signed with NDSU, the Andersons were impressed.

"It was like sitting in somebody's living room, that comfortable feeling," he said. "I think that's what Mayville needs. That's what we want."

The Alumni Center will have space available for the Mayville-Portland community to use, too.

Among the mementos already collected are original coat hooks from an old cloakroom in East Hall, for example. Landscaping also will feature some reminders.

"People who lived there have memories. You have to remember how many people met there and made lifelong friends. "They're going to be saying goodbye to an old friend," Anderson said.

"Visual memories are important. Even growing up there, that was a magical place, almost like a castle. We hope the Alumni Center, with a comfortable atmosphere, will help to keep those memories alive."

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to kbonham@gfherald.com .


Gary Hagen
Mayville State University President Gary Hagen walks through East Hall in this December 2008 photograph. Much of the original wood -- hardwood floors, doors and wainscoting -- are being preserved, to be used in the renovation of Northwest Hall into the planned MSU Alumni Center. Herald file photo.

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