BISMARCK, N.D.— The foundation working to build a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in western North Dakota is at odds with the state’s university system over how to end a lease agreement for land at Dickinson State University that’s no longer planned as a library site.
The nonprofit foundation’s board in March voted to build a museum at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and a library about a half hour’s drive away in Dickinson, where a university project is digitizing tens of thousands of Roosevelt documents. But the board reversed course last month, voting to put the entire project at the park named for the 26th U.S. president, who hunted and ranched in the North Dakota Badlands in the late 1800s before moving on to the White House.
The move to boost national fundraising means the project no longer needs the 27-acre site on the Dickinson campus for which the foundation negotiated a 99-year, dollar-a-year lease in 2016. The board in May directed attorney Murray Sagsveen to terminate the lease.
The state Board of Higher Education countered with a proposal under which the foundation would pay a total of more than $91,000, mostly to enable the university to rebuild rodeo grounds it abandoned to make way for the library, according to Sagsveen. The school currently uses a Stark County rodeo facility about 4 miles from town.
Sagsveen said during a board meeting in Dickinson on Thursday that he expected the university would be happy to have the land back and that the proposal caught him by surprise.
“I didn’t see the $100,000 coming,” he said.
Sagsveen said he’s confident some sort of agreement can be worked out, and the board took no action. However, board member Niles Hushka questioned the university’s plan to rebuild the rodeo grounds and advocated keeping the land.
“We can mow it — that’s our only cost,” he said. “There’s good hay in there. There’s a shortage of hay — we might even get paid for it.”
University President Thomas Mitzel was not available for comment Thursday, a spokeswoman said. State attorney general spokeswoman Liz Brocker said that office “does not comment on behalf of its client agencies.” North Dakota University System spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius declined comment.
The library is expected to cost up to $150 million. The board on Thursday established various committees to move forward with the project at the park, and members planned to head there Friday to visit various sites.
While board chairman Bruce Pitts acknowledged during Thursday’s meeting that the decision to scrap the two-site proposal caused “enough hard feelings to go around,” Sagsveen said in a memo dated Monday that the university site was a liability to the project.
“There appears to be major donor enthusiasm for the presidential library in or near the (park), but no similar enthusiasm at this time for any new structure on the DSU campus,” he wrote.