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Deal approved for teams to use fairgrounds as practice facility

A tentative deal approved Tuesday by the Davison County commissioners will give local sport teams a new winter practice venue at the county fairgrounds.

The plan was presented during the commission's regular weekly meeting by Scott Houwman, sports enhancement and outreach coordinator for Avera Queen of Peace, and Mitchell Parks and Recreation Director Dusty Rodiek. It will allow the 15,000 square-foot Activity Center at the Davison County 4-H Building to be used for tennis, baseball and softball practice from November 1 to March 31, with an option to extend to the program through May in the event of inclement spring weather.

Houwman said Avera has identified a need within the community for practice space to advance sports performance and the fairgrounds building was considered a viable option.

"There's been a void for places to do summer sports during winter months," he said.

In a letter to the commissioners, Mitchell Tennis Association President Melanie Mullenmeister gave a similar appraisal.

"There are very few options for our tennis community to play indoors during the winter months," the letter from Mullenmeister reads. "This would allow our youth to practice during their off season, and adults to continue to play throughout the winter months as well."

As part of the deal, Avera Queen of Peace will pay the county a $1,000 a month rental fee during the months it is available to sports practice, and hourly reservations will be handled through the Parks and Recreation offices.

Details on day-to-day rental operations remain to be worked out. No rental fee schedule has been approved to date, and a system for booking those reservations must also be developed. Depending on the county's schedule, the practice area will be open seven days a week and will be available to individuals as well as teams, Rodiek said.

"I think this is an excellent opportunity for the city, county and Avera to come together to benefit the community," Rodiek said later.

The facility plan was given approval by the city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, Rodiek said, but must still receive the final approval of the Mitchell City Council.

The area has sufficient practice space for two tennis courts, and can also be used for baseball and batting practice. Netting will surround the practice area to prevent errant balls from damaging the building's interior. A special surface will be applied to the polished concrete floor to make the practice surface suitable for tennis but that should pose no problems for the county, Maintenance Director Mark Ruml said.

Commission Chairman John Claggett expressed concern the proposal may conflict with potential rental opportunities for the fairgrounds building, located on West Havens Avenue, but Houwman and Rodiek assured him practice times could be adjusted to fit county commitments.

Claggett said the county typically loses $70,000 a year maintaining the facility and rental income has been insufficient to offset those costs. The activity center at the fairgrounds building typically rents for $350 a day.

Houwman expects demand to be brisk for the practice space, but he declined specific use projections at this time. Both Rodiek and Houwman said it may be possible to share some future rental income with the county if heating and other expenses increase at the facility, but there is no immediate plan to do so.

Commissioner Denny Kiner was against letting the building sit idle.

"Let's face it," he said. "It's a community facility and it should be used."

The commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the proposal. Commissioner Gerald Weiss was absent and did not vote.

County approves provisional budget

The commissioners also approved the county's 2015 provisional budget, which includes an $8.28 million general fund budget and a $3.24 million highway budget for next year, the latter a 9 percent increase over current highway expenditures.

While the county has received estimate of future improvement costs to East Spruce Street. Claggett said the commissioners must begin planning how it can put money aside to pay for its share of the redevelopment of the road near Mitchell Technical Institute. All county highway funds are currently allocated and an opt-out to cover construction costs may be one avenue for possible funding.

There will be a Sept. 2 public hearing on the provisional budget, Auditor Susan Kiepke said. A final county budget must be approved by Oct. 1.

Other business

In other regular business, the commissioners:

• Heard new Mitchell City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein introduced herself to the commissioners. "I look forward to working with you in the future," she said. "We all serve the same citizens."

• Honored a request from Kiepke, who asked for a moment of silence for deceased county employee Sara Klumb, who died August 16. Klumb was employed at Davison County Community Health for 22 years.

• Heard, during the meeting's public comments segment, from rural Mitchell resident Arlis Osen, who asked the commissioners to review the deteriorating condition of a bridge on 406th Avenue between 259th and 260th streets. The bridge has has had repairs in recent years, Osen said, "but it's settling again 2 to 3 inches on the west end." The commissioners said the matter will be referred to Highway Superintendent Rusty Weinberg.

• Were reminded by Veterans Service Officer Steve McClure that Aug. 28 will be Veterans Day at the South Dakota State Fair. A 10:30 a.m. "Salute to Veterans" program planned at the Northwest Energy Freedom Stage will include remarks by Larry Zimmerman, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs.