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Dakota Wesleyan University to tear down two century-old campus buildings to become green space

Rather than taking on multimillion-dollar renovation projects to keep both buildings operable, DWU officials determined demolishing the properties was the most feasible option.

Shown here is Prather Hall, one of Dakota Wesleyan University's oldest buildings on campus. The college will be tearing the century-old building down soon after the Mitchell City Council approved the plan.
Sam Fosness / Republic
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MITCHELL — Two of Dakota Wesleyan University’s oldest buildings on campus will be coming down in the near future after the Mitchell City Council approved the college’s demolition plans Monday.

For more than a century, Hughes Hall and Prather Hall have been staples on DWU’s campus. But years of aging have drastically deteriorated the historic buildings and left them unoccupied.

Rather than taking on multi-million-dollar renovation projects to keep both buildings operable, DWU officials determined demolishing the properties was the most feasible option. The Mitchell City Council supported DWU’s demolition plans with a unanimous approval for the local college to move forward with the project.

Council member Susan Tjarks said razing the buildings strikes an emotional chord, as she has sentimental connections to Prather Hall, also referred to by many as Music Hall.

“To me, it’s just so sad to see these go because, personally, my kids played piano in Music Hall (Prather Hall). They are beautiful buildings, but I understand it’s what you have to do as a sign of progress,” Tjarks said.


After the buildings are razed, DWU Vice President Theresa Kriese said the plans are to turn the lots into green space.

“That will complete our master plan for the university. Our board will convene again this year and determine what goes on next,” Kriese said.

Prather Hall was built in 1906 and served as the college’s president’s home in its early years. While the building has a rich history, Kriese said it’s been unoccupied for “quite some time.”

Hughes Hall, built in 1912, was one of DWU’s first campus buildings that housed a variety of classes. However, it’s been unoccupied by the college since 2021 when the last science class moved out. Kriese said Mitchell’s Snack Pack program utilizes Hughes Hall for its office, but she noted the group is in the process of moving out.

A timeline for when the demolition process will begin has yet to be determined, pending completion of a survey on both properties conducted by the National Parks Service's Historic American Buildings.

In a letter drafted by Louie Schoenfelder, DWU’s physical plant director, he detailed the corroding conditions of both campus buildings. Schoenfelder noted Prather Hall has been experiencing environmental and structural issues that are “too costly to continue,” adding the foundation of the building has “deteriorated to the extent that the roof above the patio area has started to settle and separate from the main building.”

According to Schoenfelder, Hughes Hall has plumbing and electrical issues, along with a roof that’s causing drainage problems. Schoenfelder wrote in his letter that the most 2011 quote to repair the building came in at $6.5 million, noting that repaired costs have drastically increased since.

State Historic Preservation Office recommends against demolition

Due to the historic status of both campus buildings, state law requires DWU’s demolition plans to be reviewed and investigated by the State Historic Preservation Office, more commonly known as SHPO. After investigating the plans, SHPO recommended against the demolition of Prather Hall and Hughes Hall, claiming it would “encroach upon, damage and destroy historic properties” listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Despite SHPO’s stance against demolishing both historic buildings, the Mitchell Historic Preservation Office sided with DWU on its findings that tearing down the structures was the only “feasible and prudent” alternative to pursue. SHPO and Mitchell’s Historic Preservation Office merely make recommendations on plans for altering historic buildings. The Mitchell City Council ultimately decides whether to grant the college approval to move forward with tearing down the buildings.

Although DWU’s campus will soon say goodbye to two of its oldest buildings, the campus has welcomed a handful of new buildings, including Dakota Hall dorms and the school of business that was finished this year.

City Planner Mark Jenniges said DWU has had a history of making use of old remnants of historic buildings that have been torn down on the campus.

“When they tore down one of their older buildings in the past, they used the old brick on the Dakota Discovery Museum,” Jenniges said.

Kriese said the college plans to find uses for some of the material salvaged from the demolition.

“We will salvage as much of the material as we can. They will make use of it,” she said.

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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