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Big projects at state universities get big victories from legislators

PIERRE -- South Dakota lawmakers gave the green light Monday for the state Board of Regents to spend about $60 million on significant renovations, expansions and new construction at three public universities.

PIERRE - South Dakota lawmakers gave the green light Monday for the state Board of Regents to spend about $60 million on significant renovations, expansions and new construction at three public universities.

Legislators said private donations are paying much of the tab for many of the projects. The various proposals now cross to the other chamber for further consideration.

Here's the rundown from what became a very big day:

Creation of the American Indian Student Center at South Dakota State University in Brookings won Senate approval 28-6.

Plans call for the center to be near the middle of campus, with $4 million of private funding and $500,000 of earnings from the state school and public lands fund.

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SDSU had 137 American Indian students prior to the project's announcement, according to Sen. Larry Tidemann, R-Brookings. He said there are 137 new American Indians signed to attend this fall.

"This is truly a step to reach out to this Native American population and involve them in this process," Tidemann said about SB 50.

The House of Representatives meanwhile approved two projects for Northern State University and two projects for the University of South Dakota.

USD plans to spend $26.3 million from three sources for a major renovation of the DakotaDome complex in Vermillion.

House members voted 63-4 for HB 1060. It calls for many updates in what Rep. John Lake, R-Gettysburg, said has been "the hub" for USD football and many other sports activities for 40 years.

Bonding would cover $14.5 million of the DakotaDome changes, USD would contribute $6.4 million and the regents would provide $5.4 million from the higher education facility fund.

House members also voted 51-17 for major renovations and additional classroom space at the National Music Museum in Vermillion.

Funding for HB 1065 includes $7.7 million from donors and $1.5 million from HEF funding, according to Rep. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton.

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She described the music museum as one of the great institutions of its kind in the world.

Hunhoff said she asked USD President Jim Abbott whether the museum had a duda, or dudy, a Czech form of bagpipes. "He assured me that it did," she said.

The project received an endorsement form Rep. Ray Ring, D-Vermillion, a retired professor of economics.

"This really is a nationally known, nationally respected, incredible facility," Ring said.

In turn Rep. Taffy Howard, R-Rapid City, asked House members to vote against the museum work. She said students already were paying too much in fees and she questioned whether the museum was nationally visited.

That led Rep. Mike Stevens, R-Yankton, to defend the museum. "This is something I think is important," Stevens said.

Northern State at Aberdeen would get artificial turf on a soccer field that can be used by the women's team for games and practices; artificial turf for a new football practice field; and a two-story pavilion and restrooms servicing them.

Rep. Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, said the old football practice field is the site for the new regional science education center that Northern State begins constructing this year. House members voted 54-13 for HB 1061.

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Bartels said private gifts would provide $6 million and Northern State plans to deliver $303,314 from university sources.

The second major project for Northern State is construction of a new School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

HB 1071 proposed putting the school at the current site of Jerde Hall. That means demolition of the dormitory, according to Rep. Dan Ahlers, D-Dell Rapids.

He said the school would include a residential hall and outdoor play area on a site that, at 3.5 acres, is one-third of the space the current school occupies.

Ahlers said private donations would cover the nearly $13.6 million estimated cost for the new school complex and the estimated $243,775 for demolition of Jerde Hall. The vote was 65-3.

House members also approved the regents purchasing from the Northern State foundation a narrow strip of land valued at $25,500 for construction of a parking lot. The vote was 55-12 for HB 1062.

The Senate meanwhile approved $600,000 for sports-complex renovations at SDSU, voting 29-5 for SB 51; and gave the regents permission in SB 53 to proceed with a land sale and a lease-purchase agreement for Rapid City properties involving the SDSU-related agriculture experiment station.

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