Today’s story 1

BISMARCK – The North Dakota University System will ask lawmakers for $108 million this coming legislative session to fund a dozen major capital project priorities at the state’s campuses.

But some lawmakers Monday questioned how much support there would be for the wish list.

Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Laura Glatt presented the interim Higher Education Committee with the list of projects. These include:

$17.6 million for a joint North Dakota University System/University of North Dakota information technology facility.

$10.8 million for the Rhoades Science Center addition and renovation at Valley City State University.

$8.2 million for the Old Main renovation at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

$28.9 million for a health sciences facility addition for UND’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

$12.5 million for an Energy & Environmental Research Center office and lab addition in Grand Forks.

Glatt said the state’s colleges and universities were asked to rank their priorities, which were also analyzed by the university system.

Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, said he thinks there would be little Senate support for the projects if the same list had campus names and communities deleted, thereby neutralizing legislators’ loyalties to certain schools.

“It lacks vision and inspiration to take us to the next level,” he said of the list.

Flakoll said some of the projects are good, but he wanted to see more projects that would help generate new wealth and business and diversify the economy.

He asked to see objective information of how the priorities’ rankings were created.

Glatt said there “isn’t a lot of glamour” on the list, but the projects help with health and safety issues.

Chancellor Bill Goetz defended the projects, saying the Rhoades Science Center facility is “terrible” and “not conducive to quality learning.” The health science facility is part of a major initiative that the university system and the medical school are undergoing, he said.

The Rhoades Science Center dates to the 1960s and isn’t built for what’s needed today in science and technology, said Trudy Collins, vice president for business affairs at Valley City State University. The ceiling heights are also too low to allow proper ventilation, she said.

Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, said there isn’t economic justification for the projects or a cost-benefit analysis.

“If we’re going to spend $10 million, what’s our return on this?” he said, adding he wanted to know things like how many students would benefit.

Dosch said one of the frustrations with higher education is the continuous spending.

“We just keep building and building and building. We’re not maintaining what we’ve got,” he said. “When does this stop, and how much money can we spend? I think we have a duty and a responsibility to the taxpayers.”

Dosch requested a summary of how much money has been allocated for construction the past three legislative sessions and the total amount of deferred maintenance.

Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City, said legislators should visit the campuses to see for themselves the condition of the requested projects. He said he knows projects like the Rhoades Science Center and Old Main need renovation.

Goetz said sustainability is as much of a concern for the university system as it is for lawmakers.

“The stewardship of the North Dakota taxpayer dollar is really very, very important and critical,” he said.

Glatt said the university system will go through each of the projects and provide more cost-benefit information to legislators during the legislative session.

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