Private funding to pay for big U. projects

In an era in which higher education officials must stand their ground in attempt to ward off future budget cuts from the South Dakota Legislature, millions of dollars have been or are being invested on public campuses statewide.

It's not that state lawmakers like to sink money into new or remodeled buildings more than in university staff salaries or scholarships. In most instances, the campus construction continues across the state because taxpayers aren't asked to foot the buildings' bills.

University administrators find other sources for revenue needed for new or improved structures. A large number of construction projects on tap at the state-operated University of South Dakota are being financed privately rather than publicly.

Students foot the bill for some of the building projects by paying fees.

During his annual State of the University address Oct. 6, USD President James Abbott noted that there currently are half a dozen construction projects ongoing on the USD campus. They include:

• The $15 million Wellness Center, scheduled to be complete in January 2011.

• The $10.5 million Churchill Haines & Pardee Science facility, which should be ready by March 2011.

• The Slagle Auditorium renovation, also set be complete in March 2011 at a cost of $8.1 million.

• The $3.8 million Pardee Lab renovation. It is scheduled to be completed in December.

• The $5.2 million Akeley Lawrence Science Facility project, set to be complete in March 2011.

• The $1.7 million Academic Commons. It is scheduled to be ready in December.

"All of these are going to be of assistance to us," Abbott said, "in terms of just a sense of viewing for people who come to visit the university, but more importantly, our students deserve better facilities and our faculty deserves the best facilities to teach in, and we will be able to have that moving forward."

He revealed last week that a new basketball/volleyball/HPER arena, with an estimated cost of $32.5 million, is in the design phase. "This will almost all be paid for privately," he said, adding that HEFF funding will be requested because HPER offices are planned to be included in this structure.

Another expensive item on the university's "future needs" list when it comes to structures, at least, is a new $30 million Science, Health & Research Lab building.

"Why, you might logically ask, would we start the design phase on a basketball arena when the higher and greater need is probably the new health science building?" Abbott asked.

Much of has to do with a change in the way major building projects are designed and funded.

For a project with the scope of the proposed basketball arena, an architect likely would be brought in to work on a conceptual plan, followed by fundraising.

"We'd try to get at least half of that (needed funding) raised before we would announce that we were going to do it. Well, because of various problems that the Regents were faced with … they said if you are going to hire an architect to help put a concept together," Abbott said, "you can't hire that architect to complete the rendered drawings on that building unless you ask us to appoint a building committee.

"As much as I sort of hated to move forward with this right now, if we're going to get this built with donated dollars, we do need to move forward," Abbott said.

Both USD and South Dakota State University have crafted a $100 million wish list of improvements to their sporting facilities. SDSU is hoping to construct a new football stadium.

The state Board of Regents was scheduled to consider approving a study into the projects' feasibility during its meeting earlier this week in Rapid City.

In addition to a new football stadium, SDSU wants to add an indoor multi-sport practice center on its Brookings campus.

The USD project in Vermillion involves a new arena for basketball and volleyball and renovations to the 31-year-old DakotaDome.

If approved, the preliminary study would look at how to fund the projects. Approval to develop the plans further and to start construction would be required later.

A capital improvement list drawn up by the universities estimates costs at $55 million for the football stadium and $35 million for the practice facility at SDSU.

"We're using up every inch of this facility," USD Athletic Director David Sayler said of the DakotaDome, completed in 1979 at a cost of $8.2 million and home to the state's only indoor football field. 'It's a great facility, but we're outgrowing it space-wise."

SDSU is already competing at the NCAA Division I level. The University of South Dakota is in the process of moving from Division II to Division I.

"Even if we stayed (Division II) we would need to add this at some point," Sayler said of the proposed new building. "We have three coaches sharing one cubicle, people sitting in hallways with desks. We don't have enough space to do things, regardless if we're Division I or II."

Sayler envisions linking the basketball-volleyball arena to the DakotaDome with a connector building that would have classrooms and office space.

South Dakota State University has developed a 15-year master plan for athletics, said Justin Sell, its athletic director.

"This is really just the next step in being able to take a look at perhaps how much some of the various projects cost and how we can put some funding pieces together to be able to add those projects," he said Wednesday.

Coughlin-Alumni Stadium, which opened in September 1962, had an average attendance of 13,265 at seven football games in 2009.

Under study at SDSU is a new football stadium seating 20,000 to 22,000 with individual spectator suites and artificial turf. The indoor practice center would include an 80-yard synthetic field for team practices, a 300-meter running track, offices, lockers, strength and conditioning rooms, and areas for sports medicine.

There's no deadline for either the USD or SDSU study to be completed.

"Ideally it would be nice to put some things together, do that study work to try to be able to go back to the Board of Regents a year from now," Sell said of SDSU's study. "That would be ideal. Will it work out that way? There are a lot of factors and variables we will deal with."

Other building projects that have moved to the design phase at USD include a $25 million expansion of the National Music Museum, to be privately funded; a $9 million north complex/dining facility, to be paid for with student fees, and a privately-funded $5 million Native American Academic Center.

"I think this (the Native American Academic Center) is an important building, and with both that building and the arena, we're asking the Board of Regents to appoint a building committee," Abbott said last week.

The list of future building needs at the university is lengthy and expensive. The list includes, besides the new $30 million science and research building, additional student housing costing $25 million, a $20 million renovation to the DakotaDome, $10 million for mechanical renovation and modernization, $9.5 million for the second phase of the Churchill-Haines project, $8.5 million for Brookman renovation, $8 million for Julian addition renovation, $8 million for the addition of practice fields at the new Wellness Center, and $7.5 million each for Dakota Hall renovations and the addition of aquatics to the Wellness Center.

Other projects that could be tackled someday in USD's future include renovations of Patterson, East Hall and Noteboom, each with a price tag of approximately $6.5 million, a $5.5 million expenditure for Arts & Sciences, $3.5 million for Fine Arts expansion, $3.4 million for replacement of the facilities management building, and $2.7 million for a new outdoor soccer and track facility.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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