When Governor Doug Burgum signed Senate Bill No. 2297 on May 2, 2019, he finalized the North Dakota Legislature’s funding of a new Communication and Fine Arts Building at Valley City State University.
The $32 million funding for the new building at VCSU came as part of a bonding bill for higher education capital projects. The VCSU Communication and Fine Arts Building will replace Foss Hall, which now stands behind a floodwall built to protect Valley City.
“I want to thank the legislature, the governor, the state board and the system office for their support of our fine arts building project,” said VCSU President Alan D. LaFave. “This project has been years in the making, and there’s great joy on campus and the community knowing that the building will become a reality.”
The floods of 2009 and 2011 brought home the need for permanent flood protection for Valley City and emphasized the perilous perch of Foss Hall on the banks of the Sheyenne River. Situated too close to the river to allow construction of the floodwall between the building and river, Foss now sits on the wrong side of the floodwall constructed in the first phase of Valley City’s permanent flood protection project.
The North Dakota University System (NDUS) has recognized the need to replace Foss Hall for several years, and VCSU’s plan to build a Communication and Fine Arts Building was the No. 1 system capital project priority heading into the 2015 North Dakota legislative session. The need to replace Foss Hall was also recognized in the 64th North Dakota Legislative Assembly in 2015, and in that session, the legislature approved contingency funding of $25.8 million for the new building, based on state revenues reaching an economic trigger.
Unfortunately, an economic downturn meant that the trigger level was never reached, and the next legislative session in 2017 resulted in cuts to state spending, including higher education, and no capital projects for the system.
In 2019, the fate of Foss Hall once again lay in the hands of North Dakota legislators and the governor. Still the No. 1 NDUS capital project heading into the legislative session, the Communication and Fine Arts Building received strong support from the legislature with Senate Bill No. 2297 passing in the Senate 46-0 and in the House 74-17. When the governor’s signature made it official, there was much celebration among the VCSU faithful.
The proposed Communication and Fine Arts Building, to be built west of the Student Center, will replace Foss Hall and consolidate the VCSU art and music programs in one facility, along with the communication program. The Art, Music and Communication Arts departments — comprising five majors, five minors and four certificate programs — will share the building, synergistically strengthening an atmosphere of inspiration, collaboration and innovation.
Every student completing the general education program at VCSU will take at least two courses (six credits) in this building, giving all freshmen on campus access to modern classroom facilities and increased exposure to the arts.
“We’re so excited about the prospects of a new building for all students at VCSU,” said President LaFave, “and we’ll look forward to bringing the art, music and communication programs together under one roof.”
In addition to removing the threat of flooding, the new building will alleviate deficiencies in Foss Hall, providing proper climate control to protect and preserve expensive instruments, ADA accessibility with an elevator running between floors, and appropriate acoustics in performance and practice spaces. Razing Foss Hall will also realize a deferred maintenance savings of $2.5 million.
The music portion of the new building, “designed for students, tuned for sound, and built with the latest acoustics will be a boon for recruiting,” said Christopher Redfearn, chair of the VCSU Music Department.
Having a new building will “provide a facility commensurate with the needs of our talented students and help attract prospective students,” said President LaFave. “This will add so much to our campus and community as a showcase for the arts and a learning laboratory for our students. Thanks to all who played a role in making this happen for VCSU and North Dakota.”