Vandals Strike Minnesota University, Leaving $1 Million in Damages

Vandals caused more than $1 million in damage to the University of Minnesota Duluth's new science building over the weekend.

"Walking through the building this morning was sickening," said James Riehl, UMD College of Science and Engineering dean. "It's a terrible day for UMD that somebody would spend so much effort to destroy this brand-new building before we even got into it."

Vandals entered the $33 million James I. Swenson Science Building over the weekend, broke windows, discharged fire extinguishers and damaged mechanical equipment.

Most damage, however, was caused by turning on water faucets on the third floor of the building's research wing. When workers discovered the damage about 5 a.m. Monday, they found standing water on the building's first, second and third floors.

"That created very significant damage," Greg Fox, UMD vice chancellor for finance and operations, said at a Monday news conference.

Fox said it's difficult to estimate the amount of damage.

"We are dealing with damage that appears to be far in excess of $1 million," he said.

Although insurance will cover the damage, the vandalism may delay the planned March move of researchers and staff into the building, but UMD officials hope to open the building to students next fall as planned.

"It will require a great deal of work, but we are going to contact the architects and contractors, and they will give us their absolute best effort," Fox said.

"This is a very serious matter of vandalism and destruction of property," he said. "We will take any action necessary to catch who did this."

Officers from the UMD police, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and a St. Louis County crime scene investigator examined the scene Monday. They will review footage from two surveillance cameras and process evidence. Fox said officials were hopeful it will lead to an arrest and conviction.

Officials believe more than one person was involved, although they don't know how the vandals entered the building. Police hadn't found signs of forced entry by Monday afternoon.

Officials are not ruling out that the latest vandalism is related to damage the building suffered early last summer, when someone punched holes in walls with a forklift and dumped out glue.

That damage was repaired by a couple of workers in a couple of weeks, Riehl said.

The Swenson was not the only Midwestern university science building damaged by vandals over the weekend. Seashore Hall and Spence Laboratories at the University of Iowa will be closed for some time because of vandalism on Sunday to research laboratories and offices.

Hazardous chemicals were dumped, more than 30 computers damaged, and an undetermined number of mice and rats released, a University of Iowa news release said. Officials on the Iowa City campus expect the monetary value to be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

The Swenson Science Building is named for Superior native and UMD alumnus James Swenson, who donated $7.5 million toward the project. The gift helped UMD obtain state money for the 89,000-square-foot, three-floor building.

Construction of the center began in 2002. It will house the biology and chemistry departments and contain computer offices and study spaces for UMD's chemistry and biology programs.

"Probably 1,000 students a day will be in that building when it's completely up and running when you count all the lab and classroom sections and research," Riehl said.

The Swenson will replace UMD's 56-year-old chemistry building and the 36-year-old Life Science Building. Some chemistry programs will remain in the chemistry building, while some labs will be converted into geology labs.

UMD plans to renovate the Life Science Building and make it home to portions of the university's chemistry and biology programs and UMD's new and growing pharmacy program. The pharmacy program began last year with 52 students, and will grow to about 200 students in 2006-07. The program is temporarily housed in former library space.

MD is seeking $9.74 million in state bonding to help pay for the planned $14.6 million renovation of the Life Science Building.