- Associated Press - Thursday, July 17, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Researchers under David Buchanan’s watch at North Dakota State University lug buckets of water into their classroom for experiments, since the laboratory has no running water.

Some pipes at 60-year-old Harris Hall, which is home to food science programs, are so corroded and clogged that they are unusable. Even the few faucets that do work only trickle out water. In addition, the electrical capacity is limited and students must schedule the use of equipment so they don’t blow a fuse.

“There’s very little that you do in a laboratory that doesn’t in one way, shape or form involve water,” said Buchanan, NDSU associate dean for agriculture. “That is a problem.”

Harris Hall is one of the buildings held out as an example of deferred maintenance projects at NDSU, which an independent study found has the most higher education buildings in the state listed in critical condition. The report, part of a $1 million system-wide plan funded by the state Legislature, showed the total deferred maintenance liability for the state’s 11 colleges and universities to be more than $808 million.

NDSU led the way at about $244 million, followed by the University of North Dakota at $201 million. Now, as the board considers how to handle the issue and how much money to ask the Legislature for, the next phase of the study will analyze how the system can better utilize its space.

“Generally speaking we like to be a leader,” said Buchanan. “I am not sure that is on the list of desirable leads.”

Another NDSU building, Dunbar Hall, which houses chemistry and biochemistry classes, has poor ventilation for handling dangerous chemicals and a fire system that is outdated for the types of chemicals used in experiments. Another building for pharmacy and nursing is so cramped the study halls are now study hallways.

Several buildings show deterioration that doesn’t “reflect an even marginal research university, much less a top-tier research university,” NDSU President Dean Bresciani said.

“The conditions in the buildings in many ways speak for themselves,” he said. “It’s not just crowded and out of date, it’s downright dangerous.”

A random sampling in the study done by Denver-based Paulien and Associates of 41 structures throughout the state found 19 to be in poor condition, including a 124-year-old building at Mayville State, a 122-year-old building at Valley City State, and a 108-year-old building at Dakota College Bottineau.

Valley City State, which has to replace its entire heating system, has the oldest campus in the system with the oldest average age of buildings, “and with that comes a significant backlog of deferred maintenance,” said Steve Shirley, the former school president who recently took over at Minot State.

As far as heating plants within the university system, Valley City’s was “almost off the charts it was in such bad condition,” Shirley said.

Dan Paulien, president of the company hired to do the report, told the board that the state has fallen too far behind on building projects.

“You need to make a real leap to address this or you’ve got some buildings that really are in a pretty critical situation,” Paulien said.

Kirsten Diederich, chairwoman of the state Board of Higher Education, called the $808 million figure “alarming,” but said only after the next phase of the study will the board have a better handle on its budget request to the Legislature.

“We were aware that we had some deferred maintenance issues that were building,” Diederich said. “However, I have to admit we were somewhat surprised to see what the consultants came back with.”

The board heard pleas during its last monthly meeting from university leaders on their capital projects. Diederich said the Paulien report adds credibility to the discourse.

“Not that we were doubting it before, but now we feel even more confident that our presidents are not submitting things to us that are frivolous,” Diederich said. “These are things that are needed, and our consultants confirmed that to us.”

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