- Associated Press - Monday, April 14, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Laura Ingalls Wilder’s little town on the prairie, De Smet, South Dakota, has solidified plans to build a nearly 23,000 square foot community center.

More than 80 percent of the town’s population of about 1,100 donated to the multimillion dollar project. The facility will serve as a theatre, events center and sports complex for the school district and city, knows as the prairie home base of Wilder, a children’s author and pioneer.

De Smet Development Corp. Director Rita Anderson said she and her committee presented the project to the city council last week, still short thousands of dollars.

“We actually raised the last $25,000 during the meeting,” she said with a laugh. One donor called in to donate $10,000, and a council member volunteered $15,000.

The city, school district and state are paying about a third of the $4.5 million project. Over $3 million has come from businesses and individuals in the community. Anderson said the planning took off when the state awarded a $500,000 community development grant.

In a 2010 assessment with the governor’s office, Anderson said the city determined that it needed a wellness center and a place for weddings and ceremonies. The center includes an exhibition hall, theatre and meeting rooms, as well as locker rooms, restrooms, a kitchen and a concessions area to serve an adjacent new football field and track.

Anderson said supporters of the project came to the council meeting and celebrated with cheers and hugs when the project was approved.

“It was pretty emotional,” she said. “It’s heartwarming, inspiring to me to see the community come together like this and make it happen.”

Patty Jenkins, a resident of De Smet since 2006 and employee of the Maynard Food Center in town, said that show of support from community members reflects friendliness and generosity she’s used to.

“If you need help, somebody’s there to help you,” she said about De Smet.

Jenkins is looking forward to using the center and will watch football games on the new field this fall.

Until now, football games have been played in the outfield of the baseball diamond.

Superintendent of the De Smet Scholl District, Jim Altenburg, said the district has hosted football games but couldn’t host sanctioned high school track meets, because the asphalt track was only OK’d for practice.

“It’s been on the wish list for a while,” Altenburg said about the football field, track and athletic complex. Through his 16 years in the district, the issue occasionally came up. He said the school’s project didn’t progress until the larger event center gained traction.

There’s also a wellness center inside the facility for use by the public.

“We haven’t had anything like that at all,” Anderson said. “We planned it pretty much to be used every day, all the time.”

Groundwork started last fall. Construction is to start up again in a few weeks, with completion in about 10 months. The city will operate the building and is budgeting for its maintenance. The city also plans to hire a full-time recreation director.

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