Western Dakota Tech headed for Whitewood?

Whitewood Economic Development Organization has an offer in on this property at 1342 Laurel St., in Whitewood with plans for renovation to ultimately provide lease space for Western Dakota Tech’s LPN program with intentions of expanded educational services in the future. Pioneer photo by Jaci Conrad Pearson

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DEADWOOD — Plans are being made and paperwork firmed up, as Whitewood Economic Development Organization (WEDO) requested financial assistance from the Lawrence County Commission Tuesday for the purchase of a building to house a Western Dakota Tech satellite campus in the Northern Hills.

Commission Chairman Brandon Flanagan suggested making a motion to the effect that the commission agrees in principal to making the loan and directed Outka to research and finalized the appropriate documents.

The actual funding request will be considered with formal action at the next commission meeting July 14.

Deibert made a successful motion to agree with the intent and subject to all items being researched, collaborated, and finalized.

“Basically, what we’re doing with this motion is showing that we are willing to participate, assuming that all of the parties involved can come to an agreement,” Commissioner Daryl Johnson said.

A plan regarding the WEDO Education Center submitted to the commission indicates the funding would be used to purchase a building at 1342 Laurel St., in Whitewood for the purpose of providing a suitable lease space for Western Dakota Tech (WDT) to locate a satellite campus in the Northern Hills.

WDT plans to offer their licensed practical nurse (LPN) program in Whitewood beginning spring semester 2021, which will serve 16 students and between two and three instructors.

Expansion plans for the site include business classes and general education courses. The building location has room for additional construction, with WEDO estimating approximately 30 students and up to five instructors per day to potentially use the space.

A letter outlining WDT’s intent to utilize the building identified by WEDO to be repurposed into an educational training facility signed by WDT President Dr. Anne Bolman was also submitted to the commission, accompanying the request.

The letter states that WDT plans to use the building to host admissions and financial aid events to inform the community on the educational opportunities and job opportunities through WDT degrees, as well as to establish a Northern Hills training facility to supply LPNs to the surrounding communities, filling a much-needed shortfall in essential healthcare workers.

“Western Dakota Tech is excited to expand and reach more students through this partnership,” Bolman said in the letter. “We see this as an opportunity for Western Dakota to enhance services to our regional area while supporting economic growth in the Northern Hills.”

The purchase price of the building is $178,500 and is under contract with a closing date of July 29.

WEDO officials said that, consequently, financing must move quickly, as the schedule is tight for procuring, renovating, and moving in the tenant in time for spring semester 2021.

Remodeled lab space and an expanded classrooms will be needed to accommodate the educational use, as well as commercial upgrades for fire safety and bathroom changes. Estimated remodel costs are $33,000 and fire safety upgrades $23,500, bringing the overall project cost to an estimated $250,000.

Chris Chiller of WEDO addressed to commission to request funding for the purchase and remodeling of the building.

“We’ve had an enormous opportunity come up,” Chiller said. “Because this is a really rare opportunity, I’m back here to request some funding so that we can purchase this building and do the work needed to alter it so that it fits their purposes. It was originally a bank building. Occupancy was 10, 12 people, maybe. Now they’re going to have upwards of 40, so we need to get a sprinkler system in, need to get additional water closets and do some things to it. This is something that’s outside of our plans in terms of having the funding.”

Chiller explained that he spoke with a representative of the Lawrence County Revolving Loan Fund and was informed that the fund had less than a $60,000 balance and that he was seeking $100,000 for the project.

Chiller requested that the $100,000 WEDO sought be taken from the Mine Severance Tax Fund.

“This will serve the

entire Hills area. Not just Whitewood,” Chiller said.

Commissioner Randy Deibert said he liked the idea of transferring the money asked if the city of Whitewood is participating in the funding of the building.

“No, we haven’t talked to them,” Chiller said.

Commissioner Brandon Flanagan stated that he does not feel the county should be the funding mechanism for any specific economic development corporation, but on the on the other hand, the county does have funds available to be loaned and that this would seem to be a good project to do that on.

“I keep going back and forth,” Flanagan said. “I don’t want to play bank to any entity and I hate to word it that way, but it seems that when they come to us first instead of the city.”

Chiller stated that the building needs to be 100% ready for WDT to occupy by December.

“If we’re going to do this, it would make a lot of sense just to fund the whole project,” Flanagan said. “Take that money out of the interest on the mine severance tax is allowed by statute and then go in front of the loan board and request that if those additional monies come in that we can then pay it and change it from the severance tax fund over to revolving loan with similar terms or the same terms.”

Flanagan asked if WEDO is a private entity.

Chiller said WEDO is in a strange category, being a 501c(6).

“We’re a not for profit, but not a public entity, like a c(3),” he said.

Deibert said looking through the statutes, the funding request seems to be a good fit.

“Not only in terms of the jobs, but education,” he said. “So I’m just trying to find a way to make this work.”

Commissioner Richard Sleep asked if Whitewood is the only option WDT is looking at for the endeavor.

“No. They’ve narrowed down to us,” Chiller said. “This is where they’ve decided to locate. They feel that Whitewood is central for them for people from Butte County and Meade County, so forth.”

Johnson said that WDT has been in conversation for many years with Black Hills State University about getting something up in this area.

“The fact that you’ve got this letter from the president of Western Dakota Tech and it says right in there that their intent is to, they’ve identified that building as workable for them, and I think it’s pretty clear cut that they’ve made that decision that if it can be put together, that they want to do it,” Johnson said.

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