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Three SD universities clear first hurdle for $70 million in campus improvements, additions

State Senate committee moves ahead on bills for demolitions, reconstructions and additions for campuses in Aberdeen, Rapid City and Vermillion

FSA South Dakota capitol
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PIERRE — Three South Dakota universities are one step closer to securing funding for hall demolitions, reconstructions and additions after a state Senate committee approved three bills Tuesday.

The Senate Education Committee approved Tuesday morning Senate Bills 42, 43 and 44, seeking approval for Northern State University, the University of South Dakota and Black Hills State University to spend nearly $70 million in campus additions and building demolitions across three sites.

In Aberdeen, officials at NSU requested approval to spend $30 million in monies from the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund for the reconstruction of Lincoln Hall and demolition of Briscoe Hall.

Lincoln Hall, constructed as a dorm hall in 1917, slowly began transforming into a mixed-use instruction building and office space in the 1990s, according to NSU President Neal Schnoor.

Due to the style of the original construction, the building maintains narrow hallways and load-bearing columns disrupt the flow of the building’s classrooms, impacting the educational experience of students.

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Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, has visited Lincoln Hall before and told the committee the pillars were the first thing he noticed.

“I’ve had the opportunity to tour Lincoln Hall a couple of times, and my impression was the pillars — there’s pillars everywhere,” Novstrup said. “[Lincoln Hall] was built 105 years ago. [In its current state] this building is not functionally going to meet the needs of the students today.”

The reconstructed Lincoln Hall, expected to open in 2024, will host modern classrooms and office space for NSU’s School of Business, Office of Admissions and the SDSU Accelerated Nursing Program. Briscoe Hall will not be rebuilt, as the 85-resident dorm building will be sacrificed for parking space.

USD's $25 million Wellness Center expansion

Committee members also approved a long-sought after expansion to USD’s Wellness Center, giving a nod toward the appropriation of $25 million to construct a 45,800 square-foot addition to their existing center to include a 50-meter competition pool, a second pool for wellness and recreation activities, hot tub, steam room, restrooms and locker rooms.

The proposed addition is phase two of three in a plan tracing back to 2008, according to USD President Sheila Gestring. Originally, administrators hadn’t planned for student-athletes to utilize the wellness center, believing they’d instead opt to use the facilities provided by the athletic department.

But with 10% of gym-goers checking in as student-athletes, Gestring said the addition, which she expects to be open to the public in the summer of 2024, will provide more opportunities for the facility’s users to exercise.

If passed by the Legislature, the bill leaves some wiggle room for inflation of building materials. The bill’s text allows appropriated amounts to be increased by as much as $6 million if construction costs are increased for a variety of reasons.

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BHSU Campus Building
The West River Health Sciences Building at Black Hills State University's Rapid City campus offers nursing programs through agreements with both the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University.
Submitted photo

BHSU seeking addition to West River Health Sciences Center

Students enrolled in South Dakota State University’s accelerated nursing program in Rapid City have a unique problem, according to Mary Anne Krogh, dean of SDSU’s College of Nursing: they have to travel between three separate sites.

As part of a partnership with Black Hills State University, the program offers nursing courses in the state’s western edge, but a lack of a single site prompted BHSU to request approval to spend $15.1 million — the majority of which comes from the American Rescue Plan — on an addition to their Health Sciences Center.

Laurie Nichols, president of BHSU, said the request to build an addition onto their Health Sciences Center, which has gained interest from Rapid City-based Monument Health and Gov. Kristi Noem, would help fill an employment gap west-river fueled by the growing need for nurses in the area.

Officials at BHSU noted the addition would also revamp the Rapid City campus after years of declining use, adding the campus could even be re-envisioned as the West River Nursing Education Facility, and could be added onto in the future, if necessary.

Brian Maher, executive director and CEO of the South Dakota Board of Regents, said the bills regarding each public university have the full support of the Board of Regents, as each regent stands by each university seeking to improve.

All three bills passed the Senate Education Committee with unanimous do-pass recommendation and will be forwarded to the Joint Committee on Appropriations before reaching the Senate floor.

Dunteman covers general and breaking news as well as crime in the Mitchell Republic's 17-county coverage area. He grew up in Harrisburg, and has lived in South Dakota for over 20 years. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 after earning his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He can be reached at HDunteman@MitchellRepublic.com, or on Twitter @HRDunt.
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