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UND President has plan for old Ralph

GRAND FORKS - UND's old Ralph Engelstad Arena could, in the next five years, become university athletes' new indoor training center, according to President Robert Kelley.

The idea still is at the thinking-out-loud stage, he said, but it's more doable at this stage than the indoor training center that's now on the long-term plan.

That plan, dating back to late 2007, called for demolition of the arena and building a $19 million to $20 million training center in its place.

Renovating the old Ralph would cost about a quarter of that, according to Rick Tonder, associate director for facilities and planning. The lower the cost, the less time it would take to raise the necessary funds, he said.

Athletic Director Brian Faison said he considers an indoor training center "the most important project out there" for his department.

Kelley also said he's considering new uses for Chandler Hall, which now houses a mishmash of theater arts, research, laundry facilities and the printing press. That's unfortunate, he said, because the building sits on prime real estate in the core of campus and on a proposed "Avenue of the Arts."

This is a corridor that starts with the Museum of Art and ends at the Chester Fritz Auditorium.

The need

Though an indoor training center isn't necessarily a critical ingredient in UND's drive toward Division I athletics, it still would play an important role.

"We can be competitive in Division I, but it's asking a lot of our coaches and student athletes to not have a facility like that," said Athletic Director Brian Faison. Many university athletes now practice in the Hyslop Sports Center, he said, which makes for some cramped conditions.

With the area's typical winter and spring weather, Faison said, it's hard for baseball players to get outside, which means they end up training alongside other teams in Hyslop. The track and field team, he said, effectively can't compete at home because it doesn't have an indoor track and, in the rare cases when outdoor competition is possible, the outdoor track is in serious need of rehab.

The Alerus Center, the football team's home field, could fill in for some practice sessions, but Kelley said there may be other events that conflict with the training schedule.

Fast track

The university president said he envisions packing a regulation track, batting cages, fitness facilities and turf for soccer and football into the old Ralph, perhaps even adding another wing.

The former home of UND hockey has been vacant since the new Ralph Engelstad Arena opened in 2001.

UND's master plan still calls for a 25,000-seat outdoor football stadium with retractable roof, an outdoor track and soccer field and an addition to the parking ramp. But that's still a long way off.

"Like everything, it's dependent on funding," Tonder said.

Kelley's "tweaking" of the master plan, as he put it, could put the training center on a fast track. Tonder characterized the use of the old Ralph as an interim solution, though it ultimately could connect to a new, purpose-built training center.

Shifting assets

Kelley's plan for Chandler Hall is of a smaller scale.

Experimental theater arts, he said, is "buried" in the nearby Burtness Theater while Chandler Hall is has laundry facilities and a printing press that really ought to be clustered with other support services on the western side of campus.

The long-term plan is to get rid of Chandler Hall. According to Tonder, it's the oldest building on campus, built with bricks made from the clay of the Red River, and it's settling into the soft ground along the English Coulee.

The biggest tenant is the theater arts department, so short-term relocation of experimental theater would be thematically consistent.