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SD Board of Technical Education talks building expansions at MTI, LATI

Terry Sabers, secretary of the South Dakota Board of Technical Education, speaks during the group's meeting on Friday at Mitchell Technical Institute as fellow board member Rod Bowar looks on. (Sara Bertsch / Republic)

On the heels of a $1.1 million donation announcement to one of the state’s four technical institutes, the Board of Technical Education dove into even more topics Friday to improve the state of technical education across South Dakota.

Following Thursday night’s announcement of Mitchell’s Darlene and Dick Muth and Muth Electric’s $1.1 million donation to Mitchell Technical Institute, the state’s recently formed technical education board met at the school for a regularly scheduled meeting to discuss the happenings at all four of South Dakota’s tech schools.

Between reports on retention rates, accreditation updates and new program proposals, the nine-person board talked campus build plans for both Mitchell Tech and Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown that will further meet increasing work force needs in South Dakota.

“We basically took a step back and focused on the existing spaces we have here at Mitchell Tech, and what directions or opportunities down the road there are to basically offer additional programs and grow the campus,” said Mitchell Tech President Mark Wilson.

MTI’s campus sits on approximately 80 acres, south of Interstate 90, and Wilson said the focus for the Mitchell-based school is to repurpose existing space, including revamping and renovations.

Planned updates and enhancements include upgrades to both the Technology Center and the Campus Center commons, thanks to the Muth Electric donation. But following this includes improvements to the Nordby Trades Center and the Energy Training Center. Both will undergo a repurposing renovation, Wilson said.

And for now, repurposing space is fine, Wilson said, unless there’s an uptick in birth rates and population in Mitchell. Wilson said a key expansion in the future is the precision ag program at Mitchell Tech, which has faculty and students spread out across campus.

“Over the next three years, if not four years, we really need to refine the space we use and make sure that we’re using it to capacity before we take it to the next step,” Wilson said. “But we also know in order to grow within our programs, precision ag for one, we’re going to need additional space to do that.”

Executive Director Nick Wendell said all of the state’s technical schools are running into similar issues and are coming up with creative solutions, such as repurposing, to solve it.

“It would be helpful to keep our minds there as we revisit some of those topics over time and think about what long-term implications are for these programs,” Wendell said.

Michael Cartney, president of Lake Area Tech, brought to the board a $36 million campus plan facility project that he said will take place in the next several years. The plan included potential renovations and building projects for at least nine different spaces that will help increase LATI’s goal to meet work force needs.

“What is exploding is the need for graduates for programs that are short of a baccalaureate. And that’s exactly what tech institutes can provide,” Cartney said.

Cartney requested the board consider endorsing and supporting the proposal, which will help in securing funding for the multi-million dollar plan for the “needed buildings,” he said.

During Cartney’s presentation, Terry Sabers — who serves as secretary of the technical education board and is a Mitchell resident — said manufacturers and industry leaders can’t expand without more workers.

Sabers continued to say the South Dakota Legislature needs to be aware of the need for more technical school graduates.

“That is even more reason to help support a number of programs at technical institutes,” he said.