650 NP Ave N, Fargo, ND
On October 31, 1997 Northern School Supply closed after 86 years in business. It was bought by School Specialty, Inc. of Appleton, Wisconsin. School Specialty subsequently closed Northern School Supply’s retail store at 17 8th St. N., Fargo.
After sitting vacant for two years, School Specialty announced in 2000 its intention to demolish the historic four-story, 52,000-square-foot building. The proximity of the building to the noise of the Northern Pacific railroad, the need for several million dollars in renovations, and the fact that the land beneath the building was owned by the Burlington Northern railroad all combined to make it unattractive to buyers. The company offered to donate the building to the city of Fargo, but the offer was declined.
In an attempt to forestall demolition, the City of Fargo paid several months rent on the building to save it. In August 2000, Kilbourne Group founder Doug Burgum purchased the building to save it. In December of that same year, he donated the building to the NDSU Development Foundation and donated $1.5 million to the downtown restoration project.
The 100-year old structure, originally built as a farm implement warehouse and dealership, was in serious disrepair. The remaining occupants included many pigeons and an unnamed raccoon. The building had environmental issues and asbestos. The land underneath the building was still owned by the railroad, and the building was having a true near death experience. Doug proceeded to “stabilize the patient” with a new roof, demolition of unsightly annexes, asbestos and environmental remediation, purchase of the land underneath, and overcoming a battle with a defunct 100 year old boiler–which led to frozen pipes and in building icicles the size of stalactites.
A beautiful brick and timber frame structure, designed in the Richardsonian style of the early 1900s had been saved. But at this time in Downtown Fargo there was no demand for housing, commercial space or retail space: so what role should the building place in second century?
The answer to the question evolved into a process that eventually included the support of North Dakota State University, and then President Joe Chapman, NDSU Development Foundation (then led by John Q. Paulsen) and the City of Fargo (then led by Mayor Bruce Furness). Through a collaboration supported by NDSU architect students and NDSU Professor of Architecture Ron Ramsey, ideas and models were created by 4th and 5th year architecture students that envisioned the repurposing the Norther School Supply building into a new building to house NDSU‘s visual arts department, major components of the architecture and landscape architecture department and the Tri-College University office.
Now an ultra-modern, green facility – aptly named Renaissance Hall – it includes everything the students envisioned along with studios, classrooms, a wood shop, computer laboratories, gallery and an outdoor sculpture area.