Anyone who has ventured into the maze of university-owned residence halls and apartments across from the Fargodome knows there are more buildings bearing the name “Niskanen” than they can count on one hand.
The six Niskanen buildings include three apartment buildings, Niskanen Expansion 1, 2 and 3, as well as a three-building residence hall, Niskanen North, South and 30 Plex, commonly known as Middle. Students who live in these buildings find it frustrating to explain to others where they live, especially since the apartment buildings are almost identical in appearance.
“It’s so confusing,” said Sarah Hoekster, who lived in Niskanen Expansion Building 2 three years ago. “It’s a hard pronunciation, too.”
Hoekster said she’s heard countless people complain about the similarity between the buildings’ names, and fellow student Katherine Kessel agreed that it causes a lot of confusion.
“Last year, when I lived in Niskanen apartments, I had to explain pretty frequently that the apartments were different from the residence hall,” Kessel said. “It also made it difficult to give directions to the apartments since there are three apartments named Niskanen.”
As if a testament to the names’ ambiguity, Kessel couldn’t remember the number of the Niskanen Expansion building she lived in just a few months ago.
“It would be nice if there was at least a distinction between the apartments and the residence halls,” she said.
Originally, the residence halls were called F Court when they opened in fall 2002. The names for those three buildings were later changed to honor Maynard Niskanen, a former North Dakota State director of housing.
“The name is critical in a lot of aspects,” – Michael Ellingson, director of facilities management at NDSU
When plans for the nearby apartments were being drawn, the name Niskanen was transferred without much thought. Staff labeled the buildings Niskanen Expansion 1, 2 and 3 early in the planning process, so they kept the names to remain consistent with the initial documents.
“When we move forward with a project, we have to give it a name,” said Michael Ellingson, the director of facilities management at NDSU. Ellingson became the director one month before construction on Niskanen Expansion was completed in 2010.
It’s a similar story to A. Glenn Hill Center, which was originally called the STEM building for science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related courses. The name wasn’t changed until after the building’s opening in 2016 when a philanthropist gave a “substantial gift commitment” to the university. The donor requested to honor A. Glenn Hill, a former chair and faculty member in the department of mathematics.
The difference between A. Glenn Hill Center and Niskanen Expansion is that, as of now, no one has requested naming rights for the apartment complex.
“Usually, it’s a donor or someone who is decorated in some fashion,” Ellingson said.
For example, the Quentin Burdick Building was named for the former U.S. senator from North Dakota. Several buildings also bear the names of former university presidents, including Stockbridge Hall, Ladd Hall, Minard Hall, Sevrinson Hall, Hultz Hall and Shepperd Arena.
Although name changes don’t necessarily need to be accompanied by a large gift, they do need to be approved by the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education.
“There’s a state board policy that says to change the name, you need to go to the board,” Ellingson said.
Costs associated with changing a building’s name include updating signs and maps around campus. After that, clear communication of a building’s name is important for more than just improving tenants’ and visitors’ abilities to figure out which building is which. Emergency responders also need to be able to locate the building quickly in case of a fire, crime, medical emergency or other crisis situation.
“The name is critical in a lot of aspects,” Ellingson said.
Ellingson said facilities management staff have little trouble distinguishing between the buildings because they use the buildings’ state ID numbers, which never change. These numbers are different than the street addresses.
However, the street address was intentionally incorporated into the name of apartment 1701 to make it easier for people to remember. Ellingson also said he pushed for Cater Hall to be named early in the planning process to keep records consistent from the beginning.
“In the past, I don’t know if people gave it a lot of thought,” he said.
Ellingson said he would look into options about renaming the Niskanen Expansion buildings or improving signage and communication. Until then, students visiting friends in the apartments or residence halls will have to keep asking, “Which Niskanen do you live in again?”