Location of New STEM Building Causes Controversy
Placement of $29.6 million classroom still unresolved
Published: Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 17:09
The North Dakota Legislature passed $29.6 million for the construction of a new state-of-the-art Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics building on NDSU’s main campus. The building will be a classroom and laboratory space building primarily meant for undergraduates and STEM majors.
The STEM Building Advisory Committee at NDSU has shortlisted two sites out of seven for this building.
Site 1, which has become the bone of contention, is located on the east patio of the Memorial Union and/or the vicinity of Churchill Field. This site is not a favorite among some students as it encroaches upon parts of Churchill Field. Some are opposed to loss of green space that has also been an important area utilized by students for leisurely activity for years.
NDSU Student Government initially approved a bill last Sunday night supporting Site 3 as the final choice for the construction of this building. Site 3 is located west of the Engineering buildings in the parking lot south of Sudro Hall. Most senators cited preservation of green space on Site 1 as their reason to support Site 3 instead.
Senator for College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Tyler Fergel said in the Senate meeting, “The east patio of the Union has a historic significance. All major universities have a space like that close to their Union buildings.”
Site 3, however, has logistical issues and will also cause loss of 198 parking stalls as well as the corresponding parking revenue.
In a meeting of the Deans of different colleges, the Advisory Committee and Student Body President Robert Lauf on Monday morning, Site 1 became strongly favored.
Mike Ellingson, Director of Facilities Management said, “The decision to [select site 1] was not unanimous but there was overwhelming support for Site 1 as a choice for this building’s location.”
The building will house 17 general purpose classrooms and 20 lab spaces with a total capacity of 1100 to 1500 seats. The STEM building is projected to hold 3000 to 4000 students at any given time, which includes students using the classrooms, labs, common areas and seminar rooms. Depending on the final plan the building is supposed to be three or four floors high. While constructing four floors will preserve more of the Churchill Field, it will increase the cost of construction drastically.
The plan also calls for demolition of the C.I. Nelson building between Ceres Hall and the Memorial Union parking lot. This space may be used to restore the lost green space or be turned in to a parking lot at the discretion of Facilities Management.
Lauf said in the Senate meeting, “This is a good problem to have. It is an incredible opportunity for the university and it is a great step forward.”
Senator for College of Business Eric Christianson, who favors Site 1, said in the Senate, “Not a whole lot of Churchill Field would go away in this process and hopefully the architects will come up with a plan to preserve as much of the green space as possible.”
Off Campus Senator Cassie Hillen raised concerns about increased traffic through the Union and lack of study spaces there for commuter students. In response to that, Ellingson explained that the new building will have its own common areas for students which will not only avoid the extra traffic but may even take some load off the Union.
Prakash Mathew, Vice President of Student Affairs, was also present at the meeting.
“I am not taking any side in the issue, but this will not be our last building,” he said, “and in the future if a new building is constructed, that green space will anyways go away. Hence, Site 1 will be ideal, but if we know 100 percent that this site will be protected even in the future then the building should go in the parking lot.”
Ellingson also mentioned how loss of parking space at Site 3 would create bigger concerns. He explained that the university is already purchasing 800 parking spots from the Fargodome, wherein they keep 75 percent of the revenue. Another Off Campus Senator William Ogdahl reiterated the concerns regarding loss of parking space resulting from usage of Site 3.
Facilities Management has also asked $590,000 as operating funds for the new building.
In his address to the Senate, Ellingson said, “I see this as a great opportunity. One of the things we need to think about is the future of NDSU. The location of this building is important for future plans of NDSU. We interviewed 3 architects and all 3 agreed with both sites. The loss of trees is inevitable. Hopefully we can replace them someplace else.”
He also mentioned about the needs of Nursing and Pharmacy Colleges in the near future.
“There are other departments on campus that are looking at spaces to build. There are accreditation issues in nursing and engineering,” he said.
Senator for College of Pharmacy, Nursing and Allied Sciences William Hess confirmed that the College of Pharmacy will be looking to expand in order to keep their accreditation.
If the east patio of the Union is selected, there are still concerns regarding bus connectivity, emergency access and loss of daylight to the adjacent childcare center that need to be addressed. The architects will be taking these points into consideration in future meetings.
The STEM Advisory Committee meets again on September 17 to discuss classroom and laboratory types and site planning options.
Although a final decision on the official site has not been made, the new building is supposed to be functional by fall of 2015, according to Facilities Management webpage.