State Board of Higher Education signs off on UND efforts to transform its campus

·4 min read

Jul. 22—Demolition and re-construction of two of UND's residence halls will continue through 2023, and the stage is now set for several apartment buildings and older residence halls to be torn down over the next 10 years.

The State Board of Higher Education met on Thursday, July 22, and signed off on a number of matters relating to UND, including residence halls, restructuring old debt and demolishing apartment buildings on campus that UND administrators say have reached the end of their useful lives. Thursday's meeting marked the end of discussion for UND's student housing consolidation and renewal plan, which has been discussed with the board over the last few months.

"This project, of course, continues our campus wide master plan," said UND President Andrew Armacost. "In other projects we focused on learning spaces. This is our component that's focusing directly on residence hall life for our students, an important element of their growth on our campus."

The plan seeks to consolidate student housing to the west of the English Coulee, around Wilkerson Commons. The idea is to tear down then rebuild West and McVey halls, completely remodel Brannon and make important safety updates to Noren and Selke. The project will create a quad around those residence halls, linked by a hub that connects to Wilkerson.

Administrators say the project will eliminate more than $200 million in deferred maintenance costs, and reduce the university's housing footprint by 1 million square feet, which will also save on utility costs.

And the project is set to get underway soon. According to Jed Shivers, vice president of finance and operations at UND, renovation at Brannon Hall will be completed by August 2022. West will be torn down and rebuilt by August 2023, and rebuilding McVey is slated to be completed between October and January 2023.

The plan will reduce the number of beds at UND to 1,998, from more than 3,300. Shivers said this aligns more closely with the number of students staying on campus. On Aug. 21, 2020, Shivers said 1,778 students stayed on campus. He's hoping for a post-COVID boost to those numbers as students return for the upcoming school year. As of Wednesday, 2,023 students are slated to live on campus. UND has an on-campus housing requirement for first-year students. Upperclassmen tend to move off campus.

UND will take on up to $140 million of debt to finance the project. The SBHE authorized tax-exempt bonds which will be paid back over the next 40 years through student housing fees. Those fees, for new and renovated rooms, will increase the first year by 10%, with a 2.5% annual increase following that. Administrators say this puts UND's student housing in line with other housing options in the region, and provides significant quality upgrades. Budget-conscious students living on campus have the option to stay in Selke or Noren, which will only see safety upgrades.

The SBHE also OK'd refinancing more than $25 million worth of older bonds UND took out to pay for previous projects. Noting low interest rates, board members said now is the time for UND to refinance.

Efforts to shed the university of outdated buildings will continue over the next decade. Along with West and McVey, which will be rebuilt, Bek, Hancock, Squires and Walsh halls will be demolished. That won't happen immediately though, and the building will be used to provide extra space while construction is underway.

At the request of the State Historical Society, UND will take 3D scans of residence halls not scheduled to be rebuilt. The university will house those scans and other historical information in its reference library.

Along with those halls, 29 apartment buildings on campus will be taken down. The buildings are outdated and require significant funds to be remodeled. Tearing them down clears the way for private developers to put up apartments on campus. According to Mike Pieper, associate vice president of facilities at UND, developers will assume all the costs of building and maintaining new apartment buildings. Developers, Pieper said, are already showing interest in the spaces.

"We have a lot of interest, at least six or seven North Dakota developers, that would like to have ground leases to develop private, market-rate apartments," Pieper said.

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