INFORUM: Renovation of NDSCS historic building preserves past

By Grace Lyden

Like a lighthouse, Old Main shines over the town of Wahpeton, and now, the inside is pretty shiny, too.

North Dakota State College of Science just completed an 18-month, $6.7 million renovation of the 124-year-old building, which has served as a classroom and administrative building, as well as a gymnasium and the president’s quarters over the years.

“Virtually everything has been in that building at one time or another,” said Harvey Link, the community college’s vice president of academic and student affairs. His office was in Old Main for 20 years while he was a dean.

The building is now home to classrooms for the social and behavioral sciences department, as well as a student success center, which has tutoring, career counseling, study spaces and other services that were previously scattered across campus.

“All the various support systems that almost every student will need at some point during their time can now be found in Old Main,” said NDSCS President John Richman.

This is the first time those services have been centralized. It’s also the first extensive renovation of the building. Forty years ago, the fourth floor became so run down that the school closed it off.

“It just became kind of unusable space,” Richman said. “There were a lot of bats flying around. You can imagine an older building that hadn’t really been renovated in many many years. The condition of it was continuing to deteriorate.”

The recent renovation opened up the fourth floor, added central air conditioning, and included plumbing and electrical work, Link said. There is now an elevator in the core of the building, and classrooms were updated with the latest instructional technology, including large TV screens.

What Link appreciates most is the history that’s been preserved or, in some cases, uncovered.

Behind a wall of the second-floor women’s restroom, construction workers found an old chalkboard with an English assignment still on it. That’s now on display in the building, as are some fireplaces that were discovered behind the walls. Years worth of linoleum and carpet were removed to reveal the original wood floor. And of course, the school pushed to preserve the iconic S’s that, as Link says, “shine above the horizon as you drive into Wahpeton.”

For Link, these details are just as valuable as the improved infrastructure.

“(Old Main) has been such an important part of the history of this community and frankly of this state,” he said. “So to retain the appreciation of the work of what all our forefathers did and put in place, and ... make it new and usable and good, I think just provides some connectivity between what those who’ve come before us have done and what those who’ll come after us will do.”

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