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North Dakota Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner File photo

Despite disagreements, including from Burgum, Theodore Roosevelt project moves ahead

DICKINSON, N.D.—Work continues on the design for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library that is planned to be built on Dickinson State University land, despite uncertainty voiced about the project's direction from Gov. Doug Burgum and others this week.

A meeting of the facility's board of trustees on Monday, April 16, focused on disagreement with the current plan for splitting the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum with the library in Dickinson and the museum in Medora.

Burgum is believed to favor one combined facility in Medora or remodeling an existing building at DSU for the library of Roosevelt materials.

But despite a motion approved at the meeting to again discuss options in the next four weeks, the design subcommittee still met and members Dickinson State University President Thomas Mitzel and Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson, both reported it as being very productive.

"We looked at landscape architecture to draw people into the site," Steiner said in a phone interview. She said the land is dusty and flat, but for a small amount of money native prairie grasses could be returned for an attractive entrance.

Steiner was the solitary vote against the motion passed Monday to form a new subcommittee to arrive at a "consensus" regarding the direction of the library and museum project. In March, the board publically decided upon a design plan which included the two locations.

The Dickinson location is key for multiple reasons, foremost being that the land is already available and there is infrastructure in place to build, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner pointed out in an interview this week.

Medora, a location that was floated relatively recently as an alternative to Dickinson, can't be developed with the immediacy required to meet the project's legislative deadline of Dec. 31 of this year, Wardner said.

Wardner thinks Burgum, whose input was taken during Monday's meeting, wants the whole project moved to Medora. Wardner said that even if the motion to take some time to seek consensus hadn't happened, he'd still be advocating for the project to stay in Dickinson.

"Whether we call this a four-week timeout or not, it wouldn't be any different. We'd still be fighting to keep it in Dickinson," Wardner said.

Mike Nowatzki, the governor’s communications director, provided a follow-up statement late on Wednesday night,  April 18, from the governor’s office.

“Governor Burgum will continue to work with the TRPL board to construct a presidential library worthy of the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt,” he said.

The Theodore Roosevelt Digital Center and the digital library project was the initial impetus for the current presidential library project, Mitzel reminded board members at the Monday meeting.

"The digital center is the intellectual property of DSU," Mitzel said. "I will continue to run it out of the basement of Stoxen Library if I need to, but if people are going to say that they want to do this wonderful thing for Theodore Roosevelt and the digital center is a core of the intellectual property, then I think they want to very carefully think about the legacy they want to leave for that project."

Mitzel expressed his confidence that the board's current disagreements will find smooth resolution.

"Stay tuned, we'll find common ground," he said. "The votes have been unanimous in every case ... to continue to put something at the Dickinson site. The city's been backing this from the very beginning, the state legislature has been backing it from the very beginning ... the votes continue to be unanimous."

Steiner said that, based on private conversations she'd had with Burgum, his intention was to see an existing structure on DSU remodeled to become the home of the digital library.

"The governor had an idea to remodel Selke Hall, but we have been meeting with different groups in Dickinson and the feeling was that any kind of delay could jeopardize the whole project and there wasn't any desire to add on to an old building," Steiner said. "The governor was disappointed ... he said that, coming from his experience in Fargo, it's better to remodel old buildings and he felt the (current) building site didn't have much romance."

As for what might result from the board following this four-week period of consensus-seeking?

"I feel the board needs to make a decision and stick with it," Steiner said.

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