UND’s steam plant was old and costly to operate. Estimates to replace it were coming in between $75 million and $90 million.

A public-private partnership between UND and an outside party, Johnson Controls, helped UND get out from under that aged plant and build a modern facility on the southwest edge of campus. It will be online this year.

As the partnership formed, it was lauded by state Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, who congratulated the university for finding an affordable solution that didn’t overspend public dollars.

“State resources should be focused on the classroom and the research,” Holmberg said at the time. “Not on a project that the private sector was willing to fund.”

It’s an important lesson as UND announces its interest in forming another private-public partnership to help move forward with much-needed improvements to the university’s athletics facilities.

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As the Herald reported this week, UND is in the process of submitting a request for proposals to tear down Memorial Stadium and build a multi-use facility in its place. Essentially, it would be a multi-floor building for student living, with one floor dedicated to space for athletics employees.

It could help alleviate a mounting problem within the athletics department. Many employees now work in outdated buildings, including Memorial Stadium and the nearby Hyslop Sports Center. It’s bad enough that the offices are in a state of decay, but training facilities are, too.

That casts a distinct shadow on UND and puts the university behind others when competing for the region’s top athletes. In December, we wrote that appearances can play a role in sports success and how the current setup for most of UND athletics does not necessarily reflect the university’s status as a Division I program.

It’s not like that at NDSU. And South Dakota has all sorts of new facilities, including at South Dakota State University, the University of South Dakota and even Division II institutions like Augustana University and the University of Sioux Falls.

Appearances -- modern training facilities, nice stadiums, flashy uniforms and the like -- matter to young athletes.

UND has made a commitment to Division I. It’s time to take it to the next level. This public-private partnership will help.

It can help reduce costs on the much-needed High Performance Center Phase 2, the proposed building that will include training facilities and locker rooms. It’s likely to cost $20 million or more.

This new proposal would allow for cost savings by way of a smaller HPC2 in the future. Cost savings today could mean that project would come sooner.

Further savings could come from UND providing the space for the new building at a rock-bottom rate, then realizing savings later in reduced or free space in the building, according to Mike Pieper, UND’s vice president for facilities.

The bad news is that it would require the razing of Memorial Stadium, which holds so much history. It will be a shock to see it come down.

But if its demise brings a new and modern era in UND athletics, we consider it progress.

At first blush, we consider it a good idea.