By Kathy Leinen
In the 124 years Old Main has been in existence it has filled different needs – providing classroom space, acting as a dormitory, president’s residence and gymnasium.
For the first few years on campus, Old Main was the sole building for the North Dakota Academy of Science.
The iconic structure was celebrated after a renovation project preserved so much of the building’s history. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held Thursday morning and hundreds gathered to pay tribute to a building that has meant so much to the college and the city of Wahpeton.
North Dakota State College of Science president, Dr. John Richman, was quick to explain the remodeling process. After 18 months of renovations, the 124-year-old building that started it all has been restored and boasts a number of improvements, combining old architectural elements with modern classroom needs.
“This is a milestone celebration at NDSCS,” Richman said. “Old Main was the original building on the NDSCS campus in Wahpeton and today we celebrate its history along with its future – and that future focuses on student success. Much thought was put into this project, from enhanced technology to utilizing once unusable space and the results have exceeded our expectations.”
Although the celebration applauded the building’s history, the future is where college administrators are working toward.
Dr. Mark Hagerott, chancellor of the North Dakota University System, said the school had to adapt through the years and continues to adapt.
“This building can give us inspiration,” Hagerott said. “The school went through the Great Depression and is still here.”
North Dakota’s 63rd Legislative Assembly approved the $8.4 million renovation as a capital expense. It wasn’t an easy push, but Clark Williams, former representative for District 25, said the collaborative effort at the state and local level helped make the renovation a top priority for the state of North Dakota.
“We got it through in the 11th hour. Higher education is way too important to be a partisan issue,” Williams said. “As you go through the building today, I’m so glad to be a part of the collaborative effort.”
District 25 Republican Sen. Larry Luick is a graduate of NDSCS and was trying to reconcile the facility of his past with the new Old Main. He said the restored structure was breathtaking. Restoring, instead of replacing was the responsible thing to do, he said.
When he was serving in the 63rd Legislative Assembly he repeatedly answered the question, is the building necessary?
“Not only is it necessary for today, it is necessary for the students and staff to come to in the future,” he said.
Michael Burns of Michael J. Burns Architecture, has a history of bringing old buildings back to life. Before the renovation process at NDSCS, Old Main had an entire floor closed off due to deteriorated conditions. Now housed within the 32,653-square-foot building is the Student Success Center, a one-stop location for students, giving them academic help, tutoring, academic program changes, career planning and job search assistance, quiet and group study spaces, classroom space and faculty offices. Burns pointed out a number of historical aspects that were preserved and displayed:
Dave Derry, vice president of Henry Carlson Company, said the renovation project consisted of 48,000 hours of work.
“Every time we tore a wall down we found something new,” he said.
The most recognizable structure on campus has been revitalized and is a shining example of the importance of bringing old buildings back to life.
“Old Main is a world-class building that will enhance the educational experience of our students today and in the future,” Richman said. “It will remain an icon to both the college and city with its brightly lit S’s shining from the Old Main steeple for many years to come.”
The celebration concluded with a ribbon cutting ceremony and self-guided tours, featuring an Old Main video tribute and refreshments prepared and served by the NDSCS culinary arts students.
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