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Regents working with governor on a major research centers plan

Madison, Brookings, Rapid City and Sioux Falls would get new or expanded research facilities under a plan taking shape between the governor and the state Board of Regents whose members oversee South Dakota's public universities.

Madison, Brookings, Rapid City and Sioux Falls would get new or expanded research facilities under a plan taking shape between the governor and the state Board of Regents whose members oversee South Dakota's public universities.

The regents discussed four major projects, as well as the need for a 100-gigabyte information network for the universities system, for more than three hours Tuesday afternoon as part of their meeting at Northern State University in Aberdeen.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard is preparing to ask the Legislature for authority to annually use one-time funding that becomes available to gradually pay for the projects, according to Nathan Lukkes. He is assistant vice president for research for the board.

He described the strategy being developed by the governor as "somewhat unprecedented." Daugaard is in his second and final term that runs until the next governor takes office in January 2019.

The discussion was webcast live in its entirety Tuesday. The regents will make decisions Thursday morning about the timetable they will recommend to the governor for proceeding on the four projects. Their combined cost is estimated at more than $113 million.

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"What we've been asked to do," said Randy Schaefer of Madison, who is the regents' president, "is rank the urgency."

Lukkes said there is a general expectation from the governor that the projects would have at least 50 percent private funding.

The four universities' presidents jointly approached a potential major single donor to talk about 50 percent private support for their respective projects, according to Heather Wilson. She is president for South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City.

She didn't identify the potential donor. "There's not a lot of resonance for funding research facilities," Wilson said, adding that support tends to come from people with a vision for South Dakota's future overall.

During her presentation, Wilson said her university has been offered a half-block of land valued at $3 million where the Imperial Hotel long had stood.

The property would be the future site for a materials laboratory and would be part of the innovation district concept connecting downtown Rapid City with the Mines campus.

She didn't identify the donor but one of the regents, Harvey Jewett of Aberdeen, repeatedly used the name of Ray Hillenbrand, a Rapid City-area businessman whom Jewett described as "a lifesaver on several occasions, just a real light in the sky."

Jewett said one of the conditions in the offer was that the project be underway by Dec. 31, 2017. He said it would be difficult to get the Legislature to agree during the 2017 session that ends in March to approve a building that isn't yet designed in October.

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Wilson said she was aware of that. She said Hillenbrand wants to help transform Rapid City. The laboratory's estimated cost is $20 million for 42,000 square feet of space.

"This is a transformative gift," Wilson said.

Dakota State University is seeking support for what president Jose-Marie Griffiths calls the MadLabs center for cyber-security in Madison. The estimated cost is $18 million.

She said Dakota State's reputation is growing as a national leader in cyber-security and has strong support from the National Security Administration and the federal Department of Homeland Security.

Griffiths said Dakota State doesn't have a dedicated research facility. She said 200 people could work in the proposed 40,000 square feet of space and their work likely would trigger development of 1,000 more cyber-security jobs connected to the campus.

She said there is strong private support and one company has already volunteered to store all of the data for the university. She said there is one unclassified NSA project underway involving 10 students and two faculty members and there is another classified NSA project with 10 students and two faculty members.

"Clearly we have an idea here that is capturing attention," she said.

South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn said students wouldn't be asked to help pay for the renovated and expanded center for animal disease research and diagnostics.

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The lab would be expanded first and the current space then would be renovated, Dunn said. The current estimate for the full project is $61 million.

Dunn said the cost could be covered through a combination of state general funds and a fee increase on livestock feed.

He said livestock organizations are aware of their producers' expected role and their leaders are in talks with the governor's staff. What isn't known yet is how much the producers would face.

"That's what's being negotiated right now," Dunn said. He added, "They are the ones negotiating with the governor's office. It's out of our hands."

Dunn said the governor's staff already identified $6 million of work that could be eliminated at this point. He said it would need to be done eventually.

The University of South Dakota seeks a $14 million expansion of its GEAR research and development building in Sioux Falls. It is part of what's being developed under the title Discovery District connected to the University Center campus there.

The focus would biotechnology, according to Mary Berry, research chemist and USD vice president of research.

Jewett urged the other regents to consider upgrading the universities information system to 100-gigabyte capacity from the current 10 gigabytes.

Monte Kramer, vice president for finance and administration on the regents' central staff, said talks are under way. He said the state Bureau of Information and Telecommunications is more receptive than the last time when the regents upgraded to 10 gigabytes.

"I think we're being heard," Kramer said. "I think we're making progress."

Jewett said the regents had to hire an outside consultant to gather information the last time because BIT wasn't cooperative. He described it as "a frustrating experience."

Kramer said the 100-gig system could be in place within the next few years before any of the new buildings are running.

He said BIT could make the investment in higher-speed equipment or BIT sign a long-term contract with SDN Communications, the system's current Internet provider, and SDN would make the investment.

The roles of Black Hills State University at Spearfish and Northern State University will continue to be providing undergraduate students with research opportunities and prepare students to seek master and doctorate degrees at the four other universities, according to BHSU president Tom Jackson and NSU president Tim Downs.

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