Discussions on facility use scheduled Friday

Rich Van Den Hul, vice president of finance and administration at the University of South Dakota, said it's important for the people of Vermillion to realize that a final decision regarding future use of the DakotaDome has yet to be made.

"We continue to have conversations, and I think positive conversations (involving the city and school officials) and I think it's important for the community to know that it's not the state that provides money for these projects. That's going to come from the students' pockets," he said. "We have a limited … budget, we have $8 million in needs at the Dome that we identified over the next 10 years … so we can't keep asking the students to pay more and more fees.

"We have to look at all of the people using the facility, and that's what this is really all about," Van Den Hul said. "It seems to me that it's fair, because in the original deal, the school district bought the turf. That was $300,000 in 1979. Well turf nowadays costs from $900,000 to $1 million, and we're not asking them (the school district) to pay that whole amount; we're just looking at an option that may work."

He noted that there other cities which are homes to universities in South Dakota and other states in the region which have reached fair financial agreements that allow community entities, including school districts, to use university facilities.

"It's not just the students who are paying the bills," Van Den Hul said. "It's everyone that utilizes it. It's sort of becomes the home field."

In Vermillion, he said, the university, the school district and the city use each other's facilities on an ad hoc basis. He noted that the Tanagers play football in the Dome, the high school graduation ceremonies have traditionally been held in Slagle Hall for many years, except for last year, when the ceremony was moved to the Dome because of renovations that are still ongoing at Slagle, and the school board usually meets twice a month in USD's Neuharth Center.

"We didn't want to start counting each and every instance that someone used a facility," Van Den Hul said. "We wanted to arrive at a general agreement, and then just be good neighbors at how we use these facilities and not have to track each and every hour."

A DakotaDome cooperative use advisory committee, made up of representatives from the Vermillion community, the school district, and USD, held five meetings beginning in early November. The final committee meeting was held Dec. 15.

The group's mission was to explore the options available to the community for continued use of the DakotaDome facility. Options explored by the committee included:

• Option A – This option would recognize the combined efforts of USD, VSD and the City of Vermillion for a total commitment of $8,027,115 which represents the estimated cost of improvements to the DakotaDome over the next 10 years. With this option the contributions would be: City of Vermillion one-sixth or $89,190, Vermillion School District one-sixth or $89,190 and USD two-thirds or $356,761 annually for 15 years with annual adjustments indexed to an inflation factor.

• Option B – This is a flat rate proposal of $50,000 per year for 15 years. Cumulative cost over 15 years is $750,000.

• Option C – This proposal of $55,000 for year-one is increased by 6 percent annually for 15 years. Cumulative cost over 15 years is $1,280,173.34.

• Option D – This financial model suggested the Vermillion School District purchase the "turf" in return for the facility use. The estimated cost of the turf (2009) is $900,000. Using $900,000 for 15 years at 5 percent interest the estimated annual payment would be $85,406.50. The cumulative cost over 15 years is $1,281,086.02.

• Option E – The proposal is an option to allow each organization to provide their individual facility.

• Option F – This proposal encouraged a formal mediation process by hiring an outside service.

The committee's recommendation, following lengthy discussion, calls for an initial capital investment of $1 million to $2 million from the Vermillion School District and the city of Vermillion be made for a term of 15 years, with an annual "use charge" to be determined by all parties to the agreement.

"That could be used towards the purchase of new turf, or whatever they (the university) deemed appropriate to use it for," Vermillion School Board member Chris Girard, who served on the committee, said at the school board's Jan. 11 meeting. "There was some discussion about possibly also having a yearly payment in addition to that, but no figure was derived for that yearly payment."

The Vermillion School District attempted to negotiate an annual payment based on what the university receives for hosting the yearly South Dakota high school football championships.

"For those six games, the South Dakota High School Activities Association pays $27,500 to use the Dome, so we felt that was a fairly viable basis for an agreement for us to pay for four or five games in the Dome," Girard said. "We also threw out an option of going up to as much as $50,000 per year as a payment to use the Dome, with an agreement that we would have to have more than just the varsity football games there – we would have to also play JV games there, and maybe have a couple track events there and get a little more use out of the Dome if we were going to be paying more."

Girard told the school board Jan. 11 that university officials were not "extremely receptive" to most of those ideas. "They were really quite stuck on the $88,000 payment, or, they felt if a capital investment was going to be made, it really kind of needed to be upwards of about $2 million (between the school district and the city) to use the facility."

She noted that, just as the university based its figures on estimates of needed upgrades to the DakotaDome; the school district also discussed the needs for improvement to its facilities that are commonly used by the USD.

"That was ultimately not chosen to be used," Girard said.  "…We can build our own facility for $750,000, but we would be playing outside."

 "We try to take a broader view," Van Den Hul told the Plain Talk Tuesday, "and get a general agreement so that after that we can be good neighbors and not do a strict accounting of each and every hour that somebody may use a facility … and if we have a facility available, we'll allow them to use it."

He added that it is now up to the officials from the university, the city and the school district to get together and further discuss the recommendation calling for an initial investment of between $1 million and $2 million by the city and school district to use the Dome and help pay for improvements to the structure.

Discussion of that topic likely will take place at a scheduled meeting of officials from those three entities scheduled for today (Jan. 29).

Van Den Hul, who as of Tuesday said he has not yet seen a solid financial proposal from the Vermillion School District, said he was optimistic that the goal of a community partnership involving the university, the city and Vermillion schools will ultimately be reached.

"I've told them (school officials), from the very beginning, that I will work with them," he said. "Once we can at least make an agreement on the amount and principle, I'll work with them. I understand there are cash flow issues, but we just need to come to an agreement on principle on what really is a fair amount.

"We put some information out there, so I'm waiting to see where they're willing to go, and that will be part of conversations on Friday," Van Den Hul said.

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