2013-05-02 / Top News

Expansion and efficiency mark University of Mary’s progress

By Kent Brick


The University of Mary’s main campus location, in south Bismarck, continues to grow to help advance the education mission of the Benedictine order of sisters who opened the institution as Mary College, in 1959. The University of Mary’s main campus location, in south Bismarck, continues to grow to help advance the education mission of the Benedictine order of sisters who opened the institution as Mary College, in 1959. (Editor’s note: Kent Brick is editor of North Dakota Living, and this story is reprinted with permission. Monsignor Shea is the son of Joe and Pat Shea of Hazelton.)

The University of Mary is building. It is building upon the vision of the Benedictine Sisters. Members of this Roman Catholic order of nuns first arrived in Dakota Territory in 1878, bringing ministries of healing and learning. Eighty years later, in 1959, they achieved a milestone in their mission of service, opening Mary College, high on a hill south of Bismarck.

U-Mary is building upon a collaboration ethic. This has long been a key to the success of the Benedictines’ ministries here, and its expansion today, across North Dakota, the United States and as far as Rome, Italy.


The proposed student center for the University of Mary is, in part, a response to the increasing number of students that are residing on the main campus. The proposed student center for the University of Mary is, in part, a response to the increasing number of students that are residing on the main campus. The university is also involved in a very significant campus building campaign. It is taking big – and efficient – strides in remodeling several existing buildings and adding new space to its bustling Bismarck campus.

Capital Electric Cooperative, Bismarck, serves U-Mary at this location.

Since 2009, a devout, exuberant son of rural North Dakota – Monsignor James Shea – has been leading this building surge, as the University of Mary president. At its core, says Shea, is “the deep ethic of service” – U-Mary’s lifeblood.

“This is about the people that the University of Mary serves,” Shea says. “This is about how we can be better for Bismarck, and Mandan, and North Dakota, and beyond. It’s for our students and their parents, for our adult students and their lives, their families and their careers.”


University President Monsignor James Shea, left, and Wes Engbrecht, director of communications and public relations, Capital Electric Cooperative (which serves the entire main campus), met recently to review expansion plans and energy efficiency accomplishments at the University of Mary. University President Monsignor James Shea, left, and Wes Engbrecht, director of communications and public relations, Capital Electric Cooperative (which serves the entire main campus), met recently to review expansion plans and energy efficiency accomplishments at the University of Mary. New buildings, efficiency emphasis

Last fall, U-Mary’s leadership publicly announced their ambitious plans for expanded physical facilities on the main campus. Shea outlined a $40 million capital campaign under way to, among other goals, improve existing facilities, create substantial new dormitory space and construct a new student center. The expected increase in on-campus residency was cited as pointing to a significant need for a social community focal point.


Mark Stephens, the university’s physical plant director, says new, efficient heating and cooling systems have been installed in buildings all across the main campus. Mark Stephens, the university’s physical plant director, says new, efficient heating and cooling systems have been installed in buildings all across the main campus. “The student center is a commitment to the quality of life here on campus,” Shea says. He notes that while UMary may not traditionally been thought of as a residential campus, that is changing. Enrollment – now near 3,200 across the university’s campuses – is growing, but there are residential quarters for only about 800 of the 1,900 students attending classes at the main campus just south of Bismarck. Shea said more dormitory space – through building renovation and new construction – is part of the campaign.

Shea calls the new student center “a living room for the campus.” He sees it as a safe and comfortable 24/7 space for social gatherings, study sessions and meetings. It is expected to be the new home of the bookstore and coffee shop, currently located elsewhere on campus. In addition, the Marauders Athletics Hall of Fame will move to the student campus center. Bookstore and coffee shop moves will create space for expanding Mary’s growing physical therapy program.

The plan calls for the student campus center to be located between the McDowell Activity Center and the Leach Field House. Its cost is estimated at $7.1 million; about 80 percent of those funds have been secured. Shea foresees it becoming a reality within the next two to four years.

Energy management

Energy efficiency and developing a culture marked by a lighter environmental footprint are a significant focus of the building development and renovation under way at U-Mary.

Mark Stephens, the university’s physical plant director, says energy efficiency has been a targeted priority for some time.

“For the past 18 months, we’ve been involved in an energy savings and an energy management plan,” Stephens says.

He says heating and cooling technologies have been evaluated and many energy equipment replacements have been done. Some 50-year-old boilers have been replaced with new highly efficient boiler heating units.

Stephens says lighting replacement has also been a major undertaking – one expected to deliver rapid payback on investments due to lower energy consumption. He says old fluorescent ballasts have been replaced with highly efficient, environmentally acceptable lighting technologies.

Part of the energy management initiative has been the development of central, computerized control of all energy consumption on campus.With this resource, it is possible to control the thermostat settings based on activities in buildings and classrooms. Activity sensors are now operating, which control the shutting-off of lights.

Several heat pumps operate on the campus, and Stephens is attuned to avoiding running several simultaneously and incurring extensive peak demand costs.

The energy efficiency and energy management priorities at the university will influence greatly the designs for new buildings coming to the campus.

“Energy efficiency is a big part of what we do anytime we get going on a new project,” Stephens says.

Shea says U-Mary has made a $7 million investment in energy management and energy efficiency. He says the investments are calibrated to ensure that energy cost savings will be realized to cover that investment.

“We decided to dedicate these funds to energy efficiency in order to be better stewards of our resources, to set a good example and create this culture for our students,” Shea says.

Wes Engbrecht, director of communications and public relations for Capital Electric Cooperative, says U-Mary continues to be an excellent member of the cooperative family.

“Capital Electric has provided service to the University of Mary for a long time. The university is our biggest consumer and we appreciate this energy efficiency effort,” he adds. Engbrecht says energy conservation at U-Mary helps the cooperative keep its power supply costs as low as possible.

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