'Hail and farewell' to Hagg-Sauer Hall

BEMIDJI--Bemidji State University leaders formally "retired" the building they plan to demolish later this spring. Hagg-Sauer Hall, built in 1970, is set to be replaced by a smaller "academic learning center" with more modern stylings. To mark it...

BSU President Faith Hensrud speaks at a retirement reception for Hagg-Sauer Hall on Tuesday at Bemidji State. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI-Bemidji State University leaders formally “retired” the building they plan to demolish later this spring.

Hagg-Sauer Hall, built in 1970, is set to be replaced by a smaller “academic learning center” with more modern stylings. To mark its impending demolition, university staff held a short retirement ceremony for the building Tuesday afternoon. BSU President Faith Hensrud compared it to a military “hail and farewell” ceremony, where troops entering and departing a unit are celebrated.

“As we gather here today, we begin the farewell portion of our celebration, knowing in August that we will hail in a new era when we break ground on the next version of Hagg-Sauer Hall,” Hensrud said. “We want to celebrate the memories that have been made inside these walls for nearly five decades.”

Staff worked free a plaque that marked the Arthur O. Lee Lecture Hall on the building’s first floor. That took several minutes -- one worker joked about never working in front of an audience before as he unscrewed the stubborn plaque -- and the crowd let out a tongue-in-cheek cheer as it came loose. Hensrud is set to keep the plaque until it can be affixed to the new building.

Students and faculty had scribbled jokes, drawings, and snippets of poetry -- some bitter, some joking -- along walls on the building’s third floor: “HS will be missed”; a drawing of the Death Star captioned “Hagg Sauer now is in range”; “Buildings like Hagg-Sauer are containers of memory for both students & faculty”; “To be or not to be...state funding made the building’s choice.”


The school angled to replace the building for several years, and finally secured $22.5 million in bond funding from state lawmakers last spring.

The existing building, they argued, was cramped, out of date, and costly to maintain. Replacing it would save the school about $22,000 in utilities every year, $44,000 in maintenance, and, presumably, render moot about $6.8 million worth of needed repairs, university staff said in early 2018 as they lobbied legislators for money to pay for the project.

Hagg-Sauer is scheduled for demolition shortly after May 17, according to university staff. The new building is expected to be ready for students when the 2020-2021 school year begins.

The hall is named after Harold Hagg, a longtime history professor, and Philip Sauer, a longtime English professor. Both were hired in the mid-1930s, when the school was Bemidji State Teachers College, and retired in the mid-1970s.

The new building is set to take up 27,700 square feet -- a little more than a quarter of the 82,000 square-foot Hagg-Sauer.

Objections But not everyone is happy with the replacement.

At least a handful of faculty with offices in Hagg-Sauer are upset with the project -- to varying degrees -- because the new building is set to only contain classrooms, rather than the mix of faculty offices and classrooms like the current building. The longer hike between classrooms and offices could mean an incrementally higher barrier for students who need help.

“It’s going to be even less likely for me to get students in my office to visit and connect with them,” said John Gonzalez, a BSU psychology professor with an office in the soon-to-be-demolished building. “And then on top of it, it’s going to disproportionately affect students of color and students who have disabilities.” Gonzalez estimated that a majority of faculty aren’t happy with the move. “It’s a physical and a psychological barrier...It’s going to be harder, even more difficult, because those students of color are the ones that are already least likely to come see you.”


Beyond that, Brian Donovan, an English professor at BSU, characterized the replacement project as one that’s overly burdensome on taxpayers and aims to meet a seemingly arbitrary enrollment-to-square footage ratio.

“We seem to be sacrificing a building barely 40 years old in order to make certain numbers line up on some anal compulsive bureaucrat’s spreadsheet,” Donovan said. “Oxford University was still making good academic use of spaces that had been constructed in the 13th Century.”

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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