House Bill 1051 is a simple appropriations measure, authorizing the construction of a bunch of new projects on our state campuses. But it also authorizes knocking down several buildings to make way for progress.

Among the edifices (I want to say edifi as much as I wanted to say campi above!) facing the wrecking ball is Lowry Hall on the Dakota State University campus. Lowry is arguably the most dismal building on campus. Built as a 70-man dormitory in 1958, it now houses two floors of offices along two skinny hallways. There are more cramped quarters in East and Beadle Halls, but those buildings at least have character (and, in East's case, bats!). Lowry Hall will not be missed... but hey! You guys with the wrecking ball! Be careful not to back into the sculpture of General Beadle!

To be missed slightly more by this author will be South Dakota State University's Grove Hall, whose demolition HB 1051 will also fund. Like Lowry, the building offers little architectural interest. But the many classes I had in that building included the honors Intro to Philosophy class, which I took during my senior year at SDSU. I spent forty hours in the fall of 1993 sitting in the north classroom of Grove, listening to Dr. David Nelson say "Bullshit!" with more gusto and frequency than any other professor I've had. When not rapt in Dr. Nelson's challenges, I was happily flirting with the very pretty girls who sat on either side of me.

My wife was in that Grove Hall classroom as well, enjoying Dr. Nelson's wisdom but not my flirtations. She was my future wife then, a concept that would have boggled both of those youngsters. We didn't even speak to each other that semester. But there we were, together in the same room, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 11:30 to 12:20, just a few desks apart in Grove Hall.

Seven years later, we got reintroduced. Eight years later, we got hitched. Dr. Nelson read at our wedding ceremony. He did not say bullshit. He did say delicious, just once, with gusto.

The loss of that room and Grove Hall will not grieve us much. Our delicious love fills many other rooms now. But it does leave us with one more story fixed only on the map of memory and not in solid walls still faintly resonant with questions about Socrates, Bishop Berkeley, and Black Elk.

...and it reminds me I should go easy on Lowry as well. It and all the other buildings on the HB 1051 demolition list surely have their own old inhabitants with their own stories of undergraduate romance and adventure.

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...and other, less important spaces.

Last September, Madison High School principal Sharon Knowlton claimed that gym space is as vital to education as science labs. A local fundraising committee agrees with The Displaced Plainsman and me that Knowlton's claim is absurd. In a report on naming rights to be submitted to the Madison Central School Board at its Monday, January 9 meeting, the folks hoping to raise money for the new gym/high school renovation project contend that gym is actually ten times more important than science:

Proposed Naming Rights Price Scheme:
New MHS Gym and Renovations
Space Price
Gymnasium $350,000
Library $100,000
Auditorium $100,000
Band Room $50,000
Chorus $50,000
ProStart Kitchen $50,000
Agricultural Wing $35,000
Locker Room: Men's Home $20,000
Locker Room: Men's PE/Visitor $10,000
Locker Room: Women's Home $15,000
Locker Room: Women's PE/Visitor $10,000
Science Wing $35,000
Individual labs (4) $15,000 each
Band Practice Rooms (3) $5,000 each
Regular Classrooms $10,000

$350,000 for the gym, $35,000 for the science wing. The market speaks: gym matters ten times more than science.

Now let's be generous: the exact words attributed to Knowlton by the press were "the proposed new gym space is as vital to the school as space for the music programs, updated science labs and renovation to the school’s auditorium." Add up all those spaces—science wing, science class rooms, band and chorus rooms plus practice rooms, auditorium—and you get $310,000. Add up the new gym and its locker rooms, and you get $405,000. So really, according to the committee's read of the market, all that gym space is only 30% more vital than music, science, and a good auditorium. Knowlton was likely just rounding down to minimize harsh blog coverage.

Also noteworthy: given the locker room prices, we apparently consider our boyhoopsters 33% more valuable than our girl hoopsters. Your Title IX interpretation of that difference is welcome.

Noteworthy by absence: the opportunity to sponsor the glittering and spacious new bathrooms, which Knowlton considered a pretty vital selling point during her sales-pitch tours of the building. I was hoping $100 would put "MadvilleTimes.com" over a toilet... which is pretty close to where Sharon would like to put it.

The board still has to discuss just how these naming rights will be realized. Classroom sponsors, don't settle for a mere plaque on the wall. Demand the kind of live broadcast requirements that big sports facility sponsors get. No longer should the morning announcements say, "Math quiz bowl team will meet in Mr. Thurow's room." The announcements should have to say, "Math team will meet in the Radio Shack Math Room." When students need to come to the office, the secretary should have to hit the P.A. with, "Ludwig Lutz and Ingrid Ingqvist, please report to the Prostrollo Motors/Coca-Cola Adminiplex."

Boy, those corporate classroom names would have posting rounds for the Mundt Debate Tournament overwhelming. Good thing Madison got that problem out of the way.

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Orland organic ag mogul Charlie Johnson served on the Madison High School renovation committee this summer. That committee discussed the financing and campaign strategy for the new gym and renovation plan on which voters will issue judgment tomorrow. In this guest column, Johnson discusses the benefits and risks of the financial plan offered by the school district.

When I agreed to be part of a study committee to review possibilities for the renovation of the Madison High School, I made a personal pledge that I would not advocate a pro or con position on a final proposal coming forth from the committee. I saw my involvement being one who could offer advice and perspective. That is my intention here with this open letter to Madville Time readers.

The request of Madison voters to approve 6.3 million in general obligation bonds is part of an overall financing package for a 14.6 million renovation project at the high school. The other portion will be financed with 8.3 million in certificates of capital outlay. For the present time until or unless major amounts of private money are secured, the total project will be 100% debt financed secured by the taxable valuation of real estate property located within the school district. The total debt burden by property owners will be approximately 14.6 million. The annual debt service for the project will run about 1.45 million for four years (1 million capital outlay plus around 440,000 for the bond redemption payment). After 2016, when the elementary school is mostly paid off, the annual debt service will be about 1.14 million(700,000 for capital outlay plus the 440,000 bond payment) for the next 16 years. The proposal last February called for 16.9 million in bonding with 1.12 million in annual debt service for 25 years. As you can see our annual debt service will be about the same with each proposal for years 5 through 20. The earlier proposal would have called for payments years 21 thru 25.

What does all of this mean? The patrons of the school district are being offered a 14.5 million project with annual payments for 20 years versus the earlier proposal of 16.9 million payable over 25 years. In each case, the total cost is financed by property tax dollars upfront until or unless fund raising dollars occur.

What the school board is offering is a type of “bridge financing” so that we can finish payments on one project and begin construction soon on another. This is in contrast to the earlier proposal which called for bond financing for the entire amount. There is some inherit risks with this approach. Again I remind you that I was part of the discussion and input to this financial package. The risks are two fold in part. A bond issue is like a one punch meal ticket. Use it and you can be assured there is little or no chance for a second issuance until the first one is paid off. The second risk is committing a major amount of capital outlay revenue to annual debt service. For 20 years the board will sacrifice some flexibility to address future major projects or provide tax relief in the form of lowering the 3 mill max on capital outlay levy. But keep in mind we have financed the middle school and elementary school with capital outlay revenue for 20 some years already. With this proposal we will be doing the same for another 20 years.

I think the study committee came up with a better plan for voters this time around. Whether it is a good enough plan? That is for voters to decide. The need for school and classroom upgrades is very apparent. The choice for some major changes and extra foot print to the school requires patrons to approve additional debt financing. That is why we have an election. We seek to secure the wisdom of the voter. For one special day, you have more decision making power than the school board or the administration. Please exercise your right and, yes, carry out your responsibility.

—Charlie Johnson, Orland, SD, 2011.11.07

Charlie's right: it's your money, your responsibility. Discuss the issue with your neighbors; check the blueprints, your budget, and your priorities; and get out and vote tomorrow!

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November 2011 Madison school bond ballotContrary to Bob Mercer's confusion, I remain a registered voter in Lake County, like hundreds of other registered voters spend much less time and have much less stake in my home turf.

Last week I exercised my right to vote in the Madison Central School District's latest bond election. (Mitch! Don't lose that envelope!) I voted the same way I did in 2007, when the Madison Central School Board asked me to do pretty much the same thing: spend about six million dollars to build a bigger gym. The difference is that this time the gym boosters are trying to hold necessary architectural improvements hostage, saying that I must approve their 2500-seat sports arena in order to get the science labs, better lighting, fire safety upgrades, and other fixes for the high school.

I don't respond well to such coercion.

I also don't respond well to absurdity. I don't respond well to a high school principal asserting that a gym is as important as science labs and the arts in fulfilling the academic mission of the public school system. I don't respond well to labeling a 2500-seat spectator arena a "physical education classroom." I don't respond well to protecting spectator seats at the expense of real classroom space.

But most of all, I don't respond well to a school administration that refuses to consider alternatives and peddles its preferred plan as the only possible solution to real problems. There are always alternatives. I continue to wait for the Madison Central administration to find a better one...

...like the one staring us all in the face: Madison Central has found $8.3 million in existing debt capacity that does not require a public vote to spend on capital outlay improvements. We could replace a lot of lights, remodel a lot of classrooms, and build a lot of fire doors with that money. Let the gym wait; take care of needs right now.

Election happens tomorrow, Madison neighbors! Get out and vote!

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Below is an image showing the new gym and high school renovation plan the Madison Central School District proposed last year:

MHS New Gym/Renovation Plan, published fall, 2010; rejected by voters February 2011

MHS New Gym/Renovation Plan, published fall, 2010; rejected by voters February 2011 (click to enlarge)

Compare that plan with the blueprint the school has provided for its revised new gym and renovation proposal:

MHS Revised New Gym/Renovation Plan, published fall, 2011

MHS Revised New Gym/Renovation Plan, published fall, 2011 (click to enlarge)

The red-circled areas represent what appear to be the major architectural changes. In the southwest corner of the building, we gain one classroom by keeping and repurposing the current four "B" rooms of the science wing instead of knocking out the walls and converting them to three larger classrooms.

The other three circles show five classroom spaces that are removed from the original renovation plan. We lose one new classroom in the northwest tech area to reflect the fact that we have cut the auto shop program, one new classroom next to the new gym, and three existing classrooms in the high school's northeast hallway, the current "E" rooms of the math wing.

Note that the gym has been narrowed by ten feet as well. However, according to board member Shawn Miller, the new gym should still be able to accommodate 2300 to 2500 people.

So the net changes: four fewer classrooms, same number of spectator seats.

Now I did note during the last bond election campaign that the original plan appeared to create ten more classrooms than teachers. Reducing classrooms may thus be a step in the right direction.

But this revision of the plan to reduce academic space but not cut the amount of space where people can sit around and watch sports seems to belie high school principal Sharon Knowlton's silly contention that gym space is just as important as classroom space. If Knowlton believed that, we'd see a plan making equivalent decreases in gym and classroom space. But this plan puts the cuts disproportionately on academic space in favor of protecting the number of spectators we can house to gaze lovingly on the figureheads of the jockocracy... and on the big sponsor banners draped in our temple to sports.

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Madison voters get to decide whether to permit Madison Central School District to float $6.315 million in bonds as part of a proposed $14.5-million new gym and renovation project. Thanks to some changes to the blueprint, that total price tag is down from the $16.9 million voters declined to bond out last winter.

One part of the plan that does not appear to change is what happens in the office (oh! the metaphor!):

Administration Office Area -- Madison HS New Gym/Renovation Proposal, Fall 2011

Administration Office Area -- Madison HS New Gym/Renovation Proposal, Fall 2011 (click to enlarge)

I have just two questions:

  1. The plan creates six offices. We have a superintendent, business manager, high school principal, and activities director. That's four. Who gets the other two offices?
  2. The blueprint shows a lot of open doors (oh! the wishful metaphor!), but how do I get to the reception area?
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My blog neighbors Jennifer Holsen and Scott Ehrisman have been waging war against the big event center that goes before Sioux Falls voters on November 8. I naturally sympathize with Holsen and Ehrisman and other event center opponents, if for no other reason than that the supporters of Mayor Huether's plan all seem to be members of the big-money Establishment. (I know, disliking the people who back a plan does not invalidate the plan; I'm just confessing my own ad hominem urges.)

I thus note with interest a declaration of opposition from one of the great members of the Establishment, Sioux Falls businessman and Republican big dog Joel Rosenthal. Without dabbling in ad hominem, Rosenthal blogs that, despite the inadequacy and obsolescence of the Sioux Falls Arena, now is not the time to sink city tax dollars into a new event center:

Any conservative approach demands their must be a dedicated source of finance. While I prefer a dedicated local sales tax that would levy a 1% general sales tax that raises the necessary money in 4 or 5 years and then could be rescinded; even a pledge of parking revenue, beverage revenues, ticket tax of some other source is necessary.

Using and depending on the current general sales tax is risky. While clearly the City could fund bonds it places necessary and ongoing city government expenditures in jeopardy [Joel Rosenthal, "Not the Time," South Dakota Straight Talk, 2011.10.22].

Rosenthal also questions whether the evolving conference and concert market will support a large concert venue:

Our culture has changed. The convention and meeting business has been transformed by technology (teleconferencing, webinars, and the like) and people are taking in their entertainment through technology as well. The most popular concerts are by performers who play to the plus 40 crowds. The Boss, Parrotheads, Dylan, Elton John, etc. With the exception of a couple of current country & western stars young people are accessing their music and entertainment differently. They are not attending concerts [Rosenthal, 2011.10.22].

I wonder if responsible civic leaders like Rosenthal might apply the same conservative reasoning to the "event center" on which Madison voters get to cast ballots on November 8. The Madison Central School District and various citizens insist that we can't spend $8.2 million to renovate our high school without spending an additional $6.3 million to build a bigger, better gym with a couple thousand seats to host larger sporting events. Yet given current fiscal constraints, given reductions in staff and student opportunities, don't we want to be real cautious about how we invest our tax dollars?

I look forward to readers' commentary on the validity of the analogy between Rosenthal's reasoning on the Sioux Falls event center and mine on Madison's new gym.

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Morlocks of the world, unite... in Lead!

The effort to convert the old Homestake mine into a bustling underground science laboratory has been left in limbo by the National Science Foundation's withdrawal of funding. NSF may have backed away from Homestake in part because South Dakota officials were pushing the economic development benefits of the project so much that reviewers questioned whether the state was serious about doing lots of hard science.

If South Dakota really is more interested in economic development at the old mine, perhaps we could turn our attention to a much wilder mine-refit project: an underground city! Architect Matthew Fromboluti proposes reclaiming open pit mines by covering them with earthen domes held up by giant inverted underground skyscrapers:

The building is completely self-sustaining, with its own power source, water recycling system, and mechanisms such as a solar chimney to control the artificial climate. Enclosed with a dome roof, the building is completely contained underground, with only strategically-placed skylights for climate control providing access to the world above ground. However, the society living inside is far from isolated – a light-rail system connects the building with nearby Bisbee [Danielle Del Sol, "Skyscraper, or Sustainable Underground Society?" Evolo, 2011.10.11].

(Funny that a woman named for the sun writes about an underground city.)

Above-Below underground habitat, by Matthew Fromboluti

Above-Below underground habitat, by Matthew Fromboluti

Now Fromboluti's domed habitat is designed with Arizona in mind, not the snowy Black Hills. Perhaps his skylights would not let in enough sunlight during the fall and winter. Maybe seven feet of Black Hills snow would overload those trusses.

But imagine the possibilities! Fill that giant pit in Lead with offices, shops, apartments, and hotel space. Plant gardens and grow fruits and vegetables year-round on the terraces. Build an underground light rail from the underground city to Deadwood for all the gamblers and another spur up to Terry Peak for the skiers. Devote half of the living space to tourists and the other half to snowbirds (or maybe sunbirds?) who want to get away from the wild weather up above.

And between books, my neighbor Stan could make some extra money shoveling snow off the sunroofs! Now that's economic development we can all love.

 

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