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A summer 2004 photo of the exterior of the James I. Swenson Science Building.

A summer view of the progress on the James I. Swenson Science Building.

Vandalism at UMD causes $1 million in damages

By Rick Moore

Published on November 16, 2004; updated on November 19

An act of extreme vandalism at the University of Minnesota, Duluth's new science building over the weekend has caused more than $1 million in estimated damages. On November 18, UMD Police announced that three juveniles have been apprehended in connection with the incident.

According to UMD officials, vandals entered the James I. Swenson Science Building--due to open for classes next September--sometime over the weekend. They broke windows, discharged fire extinguishers, and left water faucets running on the third floor of the building's research wing. A contractor discovered the damage, including standing water on all three floors of the building, early Monday morning. James Riehl, dean of UMD's College of Science and Engineering, said he was shocked to see the aftermath of the vandalism on Monday, just a week or so after visiting the building and being delighted by its progress. "It was terrible to see the water dripping everywhere and the other damage," Riehl said. "It was pretty devastating."

He noted that while no scientific equipment had been installed yet and that the teaching wing was relatively unscathed, some electronic equipment--such as fume hoods--was already in place, and there was extensive damage to newly painted sheetrock and to wood cabinets that were sitting in standing water.

Susan Latto, public relations director at UMD, was optimistic that the building would be completed on time, despite the vandalism. "We're committed that the academic programs of the Swenson Science Building will be open, as scheduled, this September, and that the students and faculty will not be held back because of this damage," she said.

The $33 million, 89,000-square-foot science building is named for Jim Swenson, a 1959 UMD chemistry graduate. Jim and Susan Swenson, through the Swenson Family Foundation, made a gift of $7.5 million to help fund the new building, which also received $25.5 million in state funding. The three-story building will house the departments of chemistry and biology.

On Thursday, Lieutenant Anne Peterson, director of the UMD Campus Police, announced that three male juveniles had confessed to the vandalism. The three have been released to the custody of their parents, and the matter is being turned over to the St. Louis County Attorney's Office.