- Associated Press - Sunday, December 13, 2015

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Over the past five years, Pennington County elected officials have obtained $48 million in bonds to finance an expansion that has added nearly 250,000 square feet of building space to the county’s downtown Rapid City campus that sprawls eastward from the courthouse at Fourth and St. Joseph streets.

Now, plans call for another $10 million in bonding next year for further campus expansion and facilities improvements at other county-owned sites.

The rapid and expensive transformation of county government facilities - coming mainly at taxpayer expense - led one top county employee recently to marvel at all the growth and how quickly it has occurred.

The occasion was a Nov. 17 meeting of the County Commission in the new Administration Building. Jay Alderman, the county attorney who regularly advises the commission, was presenting a purchase agreement for real estate that could become part of an ongoing campus expansion.

“Five years ago - it’s amazing how time flies - this very building we’re standing in and construction on this block was just a thought and a dream,” Alderman said.



The dream that Alderman referenced is becoming more like a nightmare to County Commissioner Ron Buskerud, who thinks the spending has become excessive.

“Everybody wants new buildings, and I’m not saying we don’t need them,” Buskerud said. “But we’ve got to slow it down.”

Commissioner Nancy Trautman said the work should continue as planned because it is making county employees more efficient, improving service to the public and providing needed space for growing programs.

“We’ve cleared up so many problems,” Trautman said.

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The master plan

The facilities work is the result of a master plan that was finalized in 2010 and has been implemented by the county’s Building Committee with the blessing of a majority of the County Commission. The committee consists of six high-ranking county employees, a local judge and two commissioners.

Before the plan was developed, said Mike Kuhl, the county’s construction project manager, county facilities were mired in gridlock.

“It’s really hard to get everybody lined up and agree on what are the things that we need to do to fix the problems that we have,” Kuhl said, “and there was a lot of disagreement.”

The Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/1XZDAzq ) reports the master plan showed the way and the Building Committee plunged ahead, modifying the plan’s specifics over the years but sticking to its basic goals. Primary aims included creating more space for the growing court system by moving offices out of the courthouse and into new buildings to be constructed nearby, and bringing programs to the downtown campus from other locations.

Major construction projects conducted between 2011 and 2014, including a $31.6 million expansion of the Pennington County Courthouse, expanded the downtown campus eastward and resulted in an enlarged parking garage, a new Administration Building and a new Evidence and Energy Plant Building. Since some departments moved to the new buildings, some renovations have been undertaken in the vacated parts of the old buildings, mostly in the courthouse and its annex to accommodate the court system.

The remodeling work is now shifting to the Public Safety Building, where the departure of the State’s Attorney’s Office and 911 dispatch center for the new Administration Building have created space for the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office and Rapid City Police Department to spread out.

The $495,000 project will convert the old 911 dispatch center to a training area, move the Sheriff’s Office patrol section from the basement to the first floor, expand the police patrol section in the basement, and fix settling and handicap-accessibility problems with the building’s south entrance.

The county is managing the project because it’s on the county campus, but the cost will be split with the city, which has its police force in the building.

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Millions for NAU building

All of the new construction at the downtown campus has occurred directly east of previously existing structures. The enlarged campus of concrete-facade, multi-story buildings now stretches three blocks eastward from Fourth Street along St. Joseph and Kansas City streets.

And now the downtown campus is expanding again, this time to the south.

The $10 million in bond funds obtained this year helped finance the county’s $3.92 million purchase of the former National American University building on Oct. 22. The building is at 321 Kansas City St., directly south of the courthouse.

The goal is to remodel the structure - at a potential additional cost of $3 million to $4 million - for the county’s Health and Human Services, Detox and 24/7 Sobriety programs, which would move there from locations elsewhere in the city.

The former NAU building and grounds consume the northern half of a city block. Residential properties comprise the southern half of the block behind the building, and one of those properties, at 308 Quincy St., was acquired with the former NAU building. The county is considering buying another of the residential properties, at 328 and 328½ Quincy St., for $160,000.

Kuhl said the county would like to acquire all the residential properties behind the former NAU building, partly to accommodate future parking and building needs, and partly to placate property owners who might not want to share a backyard with programs such as Detox and 24/7 Sobriety.

“In order to be good neighbors with the use of the NAU building changing, we’re asking if they would be interested in selling,” Kuhl said.

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Another $10 million

As more departments and programs migrate to the downtown campus, the county hopes to dispose of some vacated buildings, including the building that currently houses the Health and Human Services and Detox programs at 725 N. Lacrosse St. in the northern part of the city.

Future plans for the downtown campus include a rebuilt entrance at the courthouse to fix water penetration issues, additional remodeling in the courthouse to provide more courtrooms and office space for the court system, and a kitchen and laundry addition at the jail.

Away from the downtown campus, a major project is planned to replace the county highway office and shop along Cambell Street in the southeast part of the city.

It’s all planned to be funded by bond proceeds, which are placed in the county’s Accumulated Building Fund. A special tax is collected from property owners to pay off the bonds and provide additional money for building improvements.

The levy for the Accumulated Building Fund is $0.668 per $1,000 of value, which means a homeowner with a property value of $200,000 pays $133.60. The total bond payments from the Accumulated Building Fund, including some bonds that predate the 2010 master plan, are budgeted to be nearly $5 million next year. A small portion of that amount is reimbursed by the city because of the police’s use of parts of the county’s downtown campus.

Expenditures from a special revenue account like the Accumulated Building Fund are restricted by law to their identified purpose - in this case, building expenses. The money cannot be diverted to other parts of the county budget.

Kuhl is hopeful that the proposed $10 million of additional bonding for 2016, which he said will be considered by the county commissioners as a resolution, will be enough to achieve all of the remaining goals from the 2010 master plan.

“I think, with what we know right now about what we have for needs, it appears everything will be covered by the time we get through with that,” he said.

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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