Pros, cons of $17 million bond issue for school athletic facilities debated

Cost to build will only go up with time, supporters say; process highly flawed, say opponents

Tim Smith and Steve Sibson took part in the ballot issue forum Tuesday evening at the Sherman Center on the campus of Dakota Wesleyan University.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — New Mitchell High School athletic facilities are needed, most everyone agrees. But not everyone is in favor of supporting the associated bond vote coming up on June 6.

That bond issue, in the amount of $17 million, is being brought to voters to complete the original vision of a new district high school building, one that would be completed with new athletic facilities, such as gymnasiums, weight rooms and additional space.

The new high school, without said athletic facilities, is already under construction across the street from the current high school building on Capital Street. But without 60% approval from voters next month, the addition of those athletic facilities could remain up in the air for years.

Tim Smith, a retired local broadcaster, presented the proponent side of the bond issue vote at the ballot issue and candidate forum sponsored and moderated by the Mitchell Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee Tuesday evening at the Sherman Center on the Dakota Wesleyan University Campus. Steve Sibson presented the opposing view in a question-and-answer format with questions coming from a panel of media members.

In his supporting statements for a yes vote at the ballot box, Smith said even most opponents of the bond issue agree that new high school athletic facilities are needed. Delaying that construction by voting no on June 6 will only increase the cost to the Mitchell School District and the taxpayer.


“I can say that of the hundreds of people I’ve talked to in the past months about this, not one has brought up the argument that new athletic facilities are not needed. Our current facilities are overcrowded, outdated and frankly an embarrassment when compared to other schools our size. I know because I’ve visited them all,” Smith said.

There are now 20 varsity sports offered at Mitchell, when there were four varsity sports when the building was built in 1962. The main gymnasium seats 600 people, restricting the number of events the facilities can host. The new proposed gymnasium could hold about 2,300 people and would qualify to host events such as state gymnastics, Smith said.

“(That) would allow us to bring in new events to Mitchell, which would be income for the school district and more tax dollars for the city,” Smith said.

Doing that now will save the district money in the long run, he said.

"If we don't do it now, we're going to be coming back in five years saying we should have done it five years ago. Things are not going to get cheaper. You can fool yourself, but they're not," Smith said.

Sibson said there is more to the cost of the project than simply passing the bond issue. He said inflation would become a large factor that offsets any advantage gained by building athletic facilities now.

“That is only part of the cost. What we don’t talk about is the hidden tax - inflation. When government borrows money and spends it on building materials, all that is going to do is increase demand on those building materials and cause more inflation in the future. This is not good for this debt-driven economy,” Sibson said. “That tax - inflation - is what we’re not talking about. We’re only talking about property taxes, which is good, but the tax we need to talk more about is inflation.”

Steve Sibson argued the con side of the school bond ballot issue Tuesday during the candidate and ballot issue forum at the Sherman Center at Dakota Wesleyan University.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Sibson also had issues with the process by which the project moved forward. He said there was never a facilities survey conducted that would determine if a remodel of the current facilities, with some additional new construction, would be a feasible and more affordable route to take.


He said funds that the district saved to put toward the construction of the project over the years would have been better used if they had been used to maintain, upgrade and improve the current high school building, therefore negating the need to build new in the first place.

“What is going on is a psychological operation. The school board failed over 10 years ago to fix the problem we have today. They never included a facility assessment in order to do a remodel versus new construction analysis,” Sibson said.

Sibson used Brookings as a comparison, which he said used a combination of remodeling and new construction to save costs and add a swimming pool for its high school.

“They used a combination of remodeling and new construction. They remodeled what they had, because brick and mortar is very expensive, and when they needed to expand, they added on,” Sibson said. “That combination allowed them to afford a swimming pool for their high school. What did Mitchell do? We closed our middle school swimming pool and took that opportunity away from our kids.”

Sibson said he understands the need for upgraded facilities, but he said he remains highly critical of the process and urged a vote against the bond issue.

“Yes we need to improve our facilities here in Mitchell, but how we do it and the lack of planning is what I question here,” Sibson said.

Smith stressed that costs would only go up if the district waited. And waiting would bring other issues, as well. The district would have to maintain two school buildings and have students cross the street to use the facilities at the current high school for activities such as gym class. The cost of maintaining the current building to use those athletic facilities would amount to about $200,000 per year alone, he said.

He called on voters to support the bond issue.


“It’s time for us to take responsibility now and do the right thing for not only the kids, but for the community. I understand. No one likes to pay taxes, but we have to step up like the people in the 1960s did and do our share,” Smith said. “Seniors, this is a chance to contribute to the legacy of Mitchell High School, the same as they did in 1962.”

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
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