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UND Law School renovation nears completion brick by brick

Men in hard hats worked on noisy construction equipment around her, yet UND Law School Dean Kathryn Rand was all smiles as she walked into the space that used to be her old office.

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Project Manager, Nick Fiecke, and Superintendent of Construction, Dave Braaten, explain the progress of the construction on the new law school building at the University of North Dakota on Thursday, Feb 12, 2015, in Grand Forks, N.D. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)
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Men in hard hats worked on noisy construction equipment around her, yet UND Law School Dean Kathryn Rand was all smiles as she walked into the space that used to be her old office.

"Holy mackerel, this is so different," she said, pulling out her phone to take photos of the gutted room.
It was only Rand's second time inside the Law School since an $11.4 million construction and renovation project began. It is slated to be completed and reopened for the 2015 fall semester. UND was also given permission by the State Board of Higher Education to put an additional $2.5 million in fundraising toward the project.

Construction began in summer 2014 and the project is currently more than halfway finished while being both on time and on budget, officials said.

The most recent major step was pouring the second floor and Project Manager Nick Fiecke said they plan to do the same to the third floor next week.

"It has been kind of cold, but the weather has definitely helped us move along," he said. "We're at a point where when it's bad outside, we can just come inside and work on something else."

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Big changes

Consulting firms SHW Group , now known as Stantec, and ICON Architectural Group are in charge of the project.

The building will have a modern feel with large windows and open balconies while still maintaining the traditional feel of a courthouse in some areas with wooden accents.

Fiecke and Rand said the design is meant to enhance the older feel of the building, which was built in 1922, while updating it.

"We're complimenting it without mimicking it," Rand said.

This is especially prevalent in the new teaching courtroom and deliberation room, which is being built on the first floor directly off the building's lobby.

Rand said it is meant to be just like a real courtroom, as sometimes it's actually used that way for real cases. It even has an "escape route" for judges, which Rand said all normal courtrooms have.

"It will feel like they're in a federal or state courtroom and that was important to us, that students get the experience of what it feels like to stand up in front of a judge, to question a witness in that setting with people watching," Rand said.

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The rest of the building will feature collaborative learning spaces and study areas, including the library, which will be spread throughout the building's three floors. The bulk of the library's physical textbooks will be located in the basement, which has also had new windows installed to brighten the space.

Rand said the new library concept with open floor plans and lots of space that can be easily converted to meet almost any need will be a big upgrade, especially because the staff who help students the most will be easily accessible.

"You see no bookshelves, but study rooms and tables and seating and easy access to services," she said.

But most importantly, all 19 Law School full-time faculty will have their own office and there will now be bathrooms throughout the building and library, which was added on in 1973.

"They had to do it on a shoestring budget and that's why it was cement and no bathrooms," Rand said. "We're adding the windows, so for those of us who've been in the Law School, we're going to be so happy."

Law school limbo

While in flux, students have had to access Law School classes and resources at various locations throughout campus including Strinden, Twamley, Carnegie and Dakota Halls, but Law School spokesman Rob Carolin said everyone has been very accommodating.

"I think they understand and know it's going to benefit them in the long run," he said.

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Books, shelving and other pieces of furniture have also been scattered and stored throughout areas of the building that aren't being affected by construction.

While most construction work is being done using one elevator that is covered with cardboard and spotted with tic-tac-toe games, the finished building will have three.

Rand said certain rooms, such as the large ceremonial Baker Courtroom, won't be touched because they've been renovated within the last decade.

As noisy and messy as the project is, Rand is excited.

"It's the sound of progress and we love it," she said.

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