Johnson tours Vermillion facilities By Shauna Marlette
Yankton Media, Inc. VERMILLION — Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) returned to Vermillion Monday to tour the city's newest building additions: the recently completed City Hall and the University of South Dakota's Munster University Center (MUC). Johnson took the opportunity to comment on Congress and how he feels the country has been doing since the new session began in January. "I think we have made some progress, but there is a long way to go," Johnson said. "The stock market has been going up and the housing stats have been going up, but we have a long ways to go. The plan is to have the stimulus implemented by fall. There may need to be another stimulus bill, but it is too soon to tell. A big part of the problem now is that, in the Bush years, the banks were deregulated. So we inherited — President Obama inherited — those problems." Johnson's visit was part of a congressional district work period in which he also toured the Sioux Falls Veteran Affairs Medical Center on Monday. He will travel to Watertown, Lake Norden, Aberdeen, Redfield and Fort Pierre in the upcoming days for similar events. "I will spend a week on the break running around South Dakota," Johnson said. "The second week I will spend Easter with my family, and then we go back into session. The Banking Committee, of which I am a member, has a lot of work to do. The appropriations bill work will begin after the break and the energy bill will begin, as well." He said he is keeping a close eye on any projects that may impact the state, particularly the military spending bill and how it will affect Ellsworth Air Force Base in western South Dakota. "It is too early to tell the Appropriation Committee's plans," Johnson said. "But, we will see how concerned we need to be about the (next generation) bomber and how it affects (Ellsworth). We have decisions to be made. It is premature to discuss them at this point, but I am concerned about it." However, the focus of the day was focused on the new facilities in Vermillion. Johnson, who has been recovering from an intracerebral bleed caused by a congenital arteriovenous malformation that occurred in December 2006, said the City Hall facility's accessibility is a key feature that he finds very important. "The accessibility is good, and for those of us who didn't anticipate being incapacitated, it is a real treat," he said. "There is just a night-and-day difference between this building and the old one. I am a big fan of historic architecture, but the old building didn't have much architecture about it." Vermillion's new City Hall opened two weeks ago, and the city is still getting used to the new facilities. The 32,000-square-foot building has been under construction for close to a year, and replaced the old City Hall, which had been built in the early 1900s. The second half of Johnson's homecoming Monday took him to USD's Muenster University Center. The new 70,000-square-foot facility, which houses dining facilities, student organization offices and the campus bookstore, officially opened for use when the students returned from spring break in March. "I'm encouraged to come back to my alma mater and see the continued growth the campus has experienced," Johnson said. "Connections made here at USD and the new student union will stay with students and, hopefully, encourage more people to keep calling South Dakota home. Being able to support our state's education through federal funding is something I'm proud to do." Earlier this year, Johnson, secured more than $1 million in funding for the school to upgrade technology at the college, as well as $409,000 for the South Dakota Oral History Center, $381,000 for the Research, Education and Economic Development (REED) Network and $285,000 for the GEAR Center, all for USD as part of the 2009 omnibus bill. Johnson, who commented specifically on the South Dakota Oral History Center, said, "(The South Dakota Oral History Center) was an earmark. It will serve the history of the tribes particularly well. There is history to be lost unless we do this." He summed up his return to Vermillion by noting that the continued growth in the city speaks well of the state. "Touring these great new buildings is a reminder of all the recent growth happening in Vermillion," said Johnson. "Important public buildings like the Vermillion City Hall and the USD Muenster University Center are wise investments that add value to Vermillion and our state."