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Answers are satisfactory on proposed fine arts center

Last month in an editorial, we asked the Mitchell Board of Education to proceed cautiously with a proposal to build a $13.5 million fine arts center.

After the idea for a new center had been discussed generally for a long time, the specific plan seemed to congeal suddenly and take off without much public input or awareness. That's how it seemed to us, anyway, looking from the outside in. We realize there were probably many meetings of school officials at which the plan was formulated over an extended period of time.

Still, public input is needed on a plan of such immense size and cost. It's the public's money, after all.

We think the public is better informed about the plan today than it was weeks ago, thanks in part to this newspaper's reporting and to some school officials' presentations to community groups.

We still wish the school board would formally present the plan to the public, maybe at a special meeting or open house dedicated specifically to the proposal.

In that same editorial last month, we also raised many questions about the plan. Most of those questions have now been answered, which is why we support the plan even though we continue to urge greater outreach to the public.

Following are some answers to our previously posed questions.

• Does the school district needs a new fine arts center? "Need" is probably stretching it a bit, but it has become clear that Mitchell's high school auditorium is inferior to most if not all other such facilities at the state's comparably sized and larger schools. Among the nine Eastern South Dakota Conference schools, only Watertown's auditorium is as old as Mitchell's, and only the auditorium in Brookings has fewer seats than Mitchell's. It seems appropriate to advocate for a better and bigger facility.

• Can the school district afford the projected $13.5 million cost? There is a plan in place to pay for the project with capital outlay certificates -- basically, by borrowing against future tax revenue. Existing tax levies would be used; there would be no tax increase for the project. We're convinced the financial plan for construction is sound, though one thing we'd still like to hear more about is the proposed facility's operating costs and the district's plan for those.

• Why not use the Corn Palace instead? The Corn Palace is busy already, hosting high school and college basketball practices and games in the winter, tourists during the summer and other events throughout the year. We're also told that everything the district already does at the Palace will stay at the Palace. The new fine arts center would be for events that are currently staged in the high school auditorium, and for the associated rehearsals and classes. The new fine arts center would provide a better experience for the audience, which sometimes swells beyond the current auditorium's capacity of 600. The new fine arts center, which would seat 1,200, could also bring more state and regional competitions to Mitchell.

Again, we wish the school board would open the doors to this proposal a little wider. Nothing has been hidden. We just feel a proposal this colossal needs an extra thorough public vetting.

Considering everything else, though, we do see this project as a step forward for Mitchell, its families, and its public school students and their education. We appreciate the work that our school board and superintendent have done to carefully craft the proposal and we hope it moves forward as planned.