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Dickinson Williston

Honoring the Past and Present with a Presidential Library

Including the current sitting president, there have been 46 U.S. presidents to date. It may come as a surprise to some that of those 46, there are currently only 16 libraries in the U.S. presidential library system, according to the National Archives and Records Administration. These libraries are treasured storehouses for preserving and making available the papers, records, collections and more of past presidents. 

Set to open in July 2026, another president will be welcomed into the fold and will become the 17th U.S. president to have a presidential library. Again, who it is for may be a surprise. 

JE Dunn Construction earned the opportunity to build the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library. Over 100 years since his death in 1919, the famed former president is now getting his own, nestled in the Badlands of Medora, North Dakota. 

The youngest U.S. president to take office, Roosevelt was a powerful trustbuster, conservation advocate and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, among other notable things. He even had his face carved into the side of a mountain but not a presidential library – until now. 

This is JE Dunn’s third presidential library win and one the team considers a huge honor to help construct. It will also be the first JE Dunn builds from the ground up, as the prior two presidential libraries JE Dunn left its mark on were renovations to both the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home in Abilene, Kansas. 

Labeled “a jewel box” in honor of Roosevelt, the project has already shown its commitment to unconventionality and taking an approach more representative of the surrounding landscape, its past, and the former president’s contributions. And unconventional it is, from the moment construction first broke ground in June 2023. 

The groundbreaking wasn’t a typical event but a Land-Blessing Ceremony with five tribal leaders as well as Roosevelt’s descendants and people from around the state of North Dakota and the United States.  

“This project is unique in almost every way possible,” JE Dunn Project Executive Marc Mellmer said. “It has a goal of accomplishing the ‘Living Building Challenge’ or LBC. The library is the landscape, one that is regenerative and promotes biodiversity, conservation and stewardship of the land – in keeping with Theodore Roosevelt’s proud legacy.”  

A combination of structural steel and mass timber, the foundation of this monument is only just now taking shape. Plans include making the entire roof a Green Roof, meaning it will be covered with vegetation planted over a waterproofing membrane. Additionally, it is carbon neutral for the extent of the project and will be net-zero energy, water and waste within six years of opening. From the ceremonial groundbreaking in June to present, the finished project will grow to reach 92,000 square-feet in total.  

More than just a museum and institute to remember his legacy, the library is being called “The People’s Library” to highlight the individuals in Roosevelt’s life and those that have been inspired by him decades after his death. 

“This library will be more than a catalog of Roosevelt’s accomplishments,” Mellmer said. “The library will offer guests the chance to relive some of Theodore Roosevelt’s greatest moments firsthand through interactive exhibits and unique programming. Along with being constructed in the most unique outdoor landscape setting, this library will be an experience of a lifetime.”  

In a town that boasted a population of just 121 at the 2020 Census and the only incorporated place in the county it resides, some may still pose the question, “why here?”  

Medora is positioned at the gateway to some of the most scenic land in North Dakota, much of the surrounding area a part of either Little Missouri National Grassland or Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Near preserved sites associated with Roosevelt’s travels and surrounded by the raw, rugged beauty of the landscape, where better to embed a one-of-a-kind monument to one of America’s most esteemed presidents?

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