Sneak peek: Merrifield Hall’s new — and ADA-compliant — grand entrance

Tree removal work set for Spring Break to make way for massive new quad-facing front door

A big part of the ongoing Merrifield Hall renovation project will be the addition of a nearly three-story tall, glass entrance, centered on the iconic building’s east face and spilling out toward the main campus quad.

The four existing entrances on either side of the north and south ends – having served Merrifield for the entirety of its nearly 100 years – are slated to remain. But the new eastside entrance will give the old building something it’s lacked: an honest-to-goodness Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant and accessible front door.

“One of the primary reasons for the Merrifield project is to provide accessibility in and out of the building for everyone on campus – students, faculty and staff,” said Brian Larson, UND director of construction management.  “A big challenge that we have here with our historic buildings is that you walk up (stairs) to the first floor – buildings were built that way throughout campus and throughout the country for many years. Now we know better, and it’s important that we provide an accessible entrance into this building.”

The Merrifield and Twamley Construction Project Steering Committee made a decision early on to open up the east side of Merrifield for a grand entrance comprising massive panes of glass, centered on steps that are flanked by swooping ADA-compliant ramps.

“It’s going to create visibility and show off the action taking place inside to those on the quad,” Larson said, “and then people in the building will get the peaceful views and calming senses that come from the quad.”

Tree removals set

Work will begin this month, which happens to be National Disability Awareness Month. In fact, next week, over Spring Break, contractors will start removing a number of mature elm trees that are in the path of the planned new entrance.

Jared Johnson, UND’s arborist and landscape specialist, says UND doesn’t take the removal of campus trees lightly. A lot of planning and thought goes into the responsible maintenance of campus trees, especially with so much construction taking place in the area.

Johnson said he was able to “spade out” and replant a number of trees that would have been impacted by construction on the west side of Merrifield Hall. They were younger and smaller trees that were easier to move. He also was able to install protection and post signage around other trees that are nearby but not in direct conflict with construction, including a couple of trees that have alumni memorials attached to them.

The trees on the east side of Merrifield, in the path of the new entrance, are between 80-100 years old and too large to uproot and replant.  However, Johnson said, a couple of those trees are already in declining health and need to be removed anyway. He’s also had to take down five other nearby trees over the past two years, due to Dutch elm disease.

Johnson is combatting a lack of species diversity among campus trees, a condition that’s a perfect recipe for diseases to run rampant. Whenever older declining trees are removed, Johnson is already working to establish a variety of newer diverse species elsewhere on campus.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve planted, on average, 150 new trees per year, and we’ve broadened our species selection dramatically,” he said.  “We don’t want a monoculture; we want it to be as diverse as possible.”

Safety first

Larson said Spring Break is a good time to remove trees because there’s less population on campus, making it much safer to do the work. In coordination with tree removal crews and PCL Construction, the general contractor of the Merrifield project, large concrete barriers will be set along the north-south sidewalk east of Merrifield, creating a buffer between foot traffic and the construction work.

Crews also previously relocated UND’s famed Eternal Flame monument to a site more centrally located in the quad so a service path could be created between Merrifield and Twamley Halls for the big machinery and truck traffic needed for the Merrifield project.

Merrifield Hall is one of the newest buildings on campus to be getting a complete face-lift. Built in 1929, the academic building has housed several departments from the College of Arts & Sciences. Most UND undergraduates have taken several classes there over the years. The departments that for decades have called Merrifield home have temporarily set up shop across Centennial Drive in Gamble Hall, the former home of the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration.

While the renovations intend to retain the building’s history and architecture, the updates will refresh the look and feel of Merrifield’s classrooms and offices to match the technological demands of modern-day teaching. All this, in addition to all new windows and the brand new east entrance.

“It’s really going to shine and reach out to the campus when it’s all done,” Larson said.

Merrifield’s renovation is planned to be finished in less than 18 months, just in time for summer 2024.

More information about plans for the renovations can be found on the project’s website.