Renovations needed for aging buildings


Editorial Board

The Issue:South Dakota can’t become the research leader the state wants to be unless the research facilities are renovated.

The Stance:While HB 1085 is an expensive long-term commitment, the ultimate payoff will far exceed the investment.

South Dakota has had an epiphany-at least when it comes to science labs at public universities. During the summer of 2007, the Board of Regents announced an ambitious plan to fully renovate the worst research facilities at the six regental universities, and during the 2008 Legislative session, South Dakota lawmakers will decide whether the BOR’s initiative deserves a yea or nay.

The legislation, officially titled House Bill 1085, requires a $74.5 million bond to be paid off over the course of 25 years to improve 11 facilities at all six public universities as well as the University Center in Sioux Falls. Two projects are slated for SDSU-an $8 million renovation in Agricultural Hall and an $8.26 million overhaul of Dairy Microbiology.

Some lawmakers aren’t on board with upgrading labs that have been essentially untouched since they were constructed in the 1950s and ’60s. “Just how much do we really need?” asked Rep. Mark DeVries, R-Belvidere in the Jan. 21 edition of the Argus Leader. Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City, doesn’t see it as a priority. “I’m not voting for that until we make sure we can take care of the [K-12] schools,” said Olson in the same article.

While fiscal responsibility is a positive attribute in a politician, the improvements aren’t frivolous or simply to show off unnecessary technology. The BOR are trying to get rid of potential health hazards. Some of the repairs planned for Ag Hall-a building that more than half of SDSU undergrads will use at some point-include upgrading the fire alarms and improving laboratory ventilation. One major problem the BOR wants to fix in Dairy Micro is the water piping system. The system is still being used 20 years after other systems of its kind have been replaced, and the pipes are now corroded and leaking in the building. The BOR also plans to upgrade the fire detection system, install sprinklers and remove “nonfriable asbestos containing material” in Dairy Micro. Yes, Dairy Micro still has asbestos.

These 11 projects are barely scratching the surface of necessary facility renovations across the state. Either now or down the road, these buildings will need to be fixed. Private funds are pouring in for new buildings at SDSU, all of which are doomed to eventually need repairs and cost even more money. By delaying the BOR’s plan, the legislators will only increase the state’s inevitable bill.

If we really want to keep the best and brightest in South Dakota, we have to give them adequate and safe facilities to make their discoveries in. The $74.5 million may seem like a lot, but can you really pay too much to insure South Dakota’s role as a leader in the future?