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The Journal's stories to watch in 2018

Editor's note: As 2018 begins, we look at three stories expected to make headlines in the next year.

The future of Barnett Arena

To remodel or build new? That is the question Mayor Steve Allender, the Rapid City Council and possibly Rapid City voters must answer in 2018 about Barnett Arena.

After months of public presentations, Allender will go before the city council at a special meeting Feb. 26 and seek direction to move forward on one of the options.

"As we approach 2018, I believe we are also approaching an appropriate time for you as the City Council to provide input and direction in regards to the future of the Barnett Arena," Allender wrote in a letter to council members on Wednesday. 

The mayor has said that building a new arena would cost around $182 million, including principal and interest. The estimated $6 million annual debt payments for the arena would tie up 54 percent of the city’s Vision Fund collections over a 30-year period. 

The new arena would seat perhaps 13,000 people and have a higher ceiling and potentially a U-shaped seating bowl, plus other extras like a loading dock, to accommodate the demands of modern entertainment events that were not envisioned when Barnett Arena was built.

The cost of remodeling, including principal and interest, has been estimated at $26.8 million to $28.3 million, depending on whether the debt was paid over a five- or 10-year period. That plan would also take money from the Vision Fund, but with lower annual debt payments and a quicker payoff period.

If Barnett Arena is remodeled, it’s expected that the number of seats would decrease from the current 10,500 to make room for more handicapped-accessible areas.

The city must move forward with one of the two options because the arena is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the federal government is requiring the city to come into compliance.

Regardless of which option the council selects at the special meeting on Feb. 26, the final decision could rest in the hands of Rapid City voters. To get the issue to a referendum, state law requires that 5 percent of the city's registered voters need to sign a petition.

If that happens — and Allender has said he expects it will — a public referendum could take place June 5, when the state is scheduled to hold primary elections. 

In 2015, Rapid City voters in a citywide referendum overwhelmingly denied a proposed expansion of Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, but the cost of that plan was much larger than the one being proposed this year. Over the life of a 30-year debt schedule, the total principal and interest to finance that plan would have been between $340 million and $420 million.

The changing political landscape

After the despondency that resulted from losing the presidency in 2016, Democrats across the nation — including South Dakota — were re-energized Dec. 12 with an unexpected Democratic victory in a special U.S. Senate election in Alabama.

“A Democrat winning in deep-red Alabama means that big things are possible for South Dakota,” said a fundraising email sent Dec. 28 by the South Dakota Democratic Party.

As of yet, however, no South Dakota Republican in a 2018 statewide race faces anything like the accusations of sexual misconduct that dogged Alabama Republican Roy Moore in his losing effort against Democrat Doug Jones.

And if history and current data are any indication, it might take a scandal like that for a Democratic candidate to win a statewide race this year in South Dakota.

There are, after all, no Democrats in statewide office here. South Dakota Democrats haven’t won an election for governor since 1974, and a Democratic presidential nominee has not received majority support from South Dakotans since 1964. The current makeup of the South Dakota Legislature is 88 Republicans and 16 Democrats. And as of last week, there were 245,519 registered Republicans in South Dakota, compared to 159,973 Democrats (along with 120,702 people registered either as independent or with no political label whatsoever, and a smattering of others in lesser-known political parties).

Democratic hopes in South Dakota for 2018 have fallen on the shoulders of Billie Sutton, a state legislator from Burke who is running for governor, and Tim Bjorkman, a retired judge from Canistota who is running for U.S. House.

For both candidates, winning in the Nov. 6 general election will require not only overcoming history and a voter registration disadvantage, but also beating formidable Republican candidates who will vie for their party’s nomination in the June 5 primary election.

Declared candidates for the Republican gubernatorial primary include the presumed favorites, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley of Pierre and U.S. House Rep. Kristi Noem of Castlewood, along with former legislator Lora Hubbel and political newcomer Terry LaFleur, both of Sioux Falls.

In the U.S. House race, declared candidates for the Republican primary include South Dakota Secretary of State Shantel Krebs of Fort Pierre and Dusty Johnson of Mitchell, who is a former public utilities commissioner and former chief of staff to Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Neal Tapio, a state legislator from Watertown, has indicated he will enter the race.

Besides the high-profile races for governor and U.S. House, additional items on ballots in South Dakota this year will include races for other statewide offices such as attorney general; races for county and local offices; races for legislative offices; and statewide ballot questions regarding laws proposed for passage, repeal or amendment.

A new approach to county health

The new Pennington County Health Facility, slated to open in 2018, will allow several agencies currently scattered across the city to operate under one roof. The more than $9 million project represents a shifting approach to health care in Pennington County. 

Unofficially known as the Restoration Center, the facility will house the county Health and Human Services Department, City/County Alcohol and Drug Programs and the Crisis Care Center.

Officials say it represents a critical response to the lack of local services for people suffering from substance and mental health issues.

"Having all of these under one roof will help meet the needs of the community and the needs of the individuals," Barry Tice, director of the county Health and Human Services Department, said at a county commission meeting earlier this year. "We will have qualified mental health staff that will work with individuals to make sure they get the help they need."

The Restoration Center, at the corner of Kansas City and Fourth streets, is expected to begin operating at the end of June following a renovation of the former National American University building.

Construction work should be completed by mid-May, but an extra month month will be needed to move office furniture and equipment into the new facility. Mike Kuhl, construction project manager in the county’s Building and Grounds Department, said the project carries a price tag of $9.1 million but commissioners approved an extra $90,000 to cover additional costs. 

The facility was initially considered as a new site for the county’s 24/7 sobriety program. But officials dropped the idea early in project's design stage after hearing the concerns expressed by neighborhood residents, Kuhl said.

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Knots & Love movement expands to several states as legacy to rancher

Countless children and adults have warmth and encouragement this winter thanks to a dying man's legacy.

John "Jack" Apland, a longtime rancher from Canistota, was in his final months of life in 2016 when he and his family launched Knots & Love, a project to tie and make blankets for Black Hills area children in foster care. Knots & Love began as a one-time effort to help Apland, 89, find purpose in life when his health was failing and he was facing many personal struggles.

"There was so much Dad couldn't do anything about (the last few months of his life), but so much he could," said Lisa Wells, Apland's daughter. "We talked about all he had to be grateful for. ... That segued into, 'What about if we do something for those people (in need)?' It was a good reminder to be grateful, and (tying blankets) was something he could physically do himself, on his terms, according to his abilities."

In 2016, Apland and his family set a goal to donate 45 blankets to the Department of Social Services in Sturgis before Thanksgiving. Friends and community members got involved and on Nov. 10, 2016, his family donated 67 blankets, Wells said.

Though Apland died about two weeks before the blankets were donated, the project succeeded in giving him a sense of value and productivity. To his family's surprise, Knots & Love also has become a movement that's spread to several states, Wells said.

Apland's family decided keep Knots & Love going in 2017, and beyond, in their father's honor. "Dad said yes to this project at the worst time in his life," Wells said. "The needs of those children have not gone away. There are still children whose lives have been turned upside down." 

Word spread about Knots & Love, and people in Washington, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Iowa, Virginia and South Dakota got involved this year. "People either contacted us and said they were going to do this in their community ... or helped donate in this area," Wells said. "The donations kept coming."

Several Black Hills community groups contributed to Knots & Love, Wells said. One of Apland's former nurses, Ches Hegge, and Spearfish Regional Hospital Employees gave blankets. The YMCA Teen Center in Rapid City and YMCA members, the Zion Dorcas Circle in Rapid City, and the Fountain Springs Fervent Ladies Life Group gave hats, gloves and blankets.

Each time items filled up the storage space in Wells' home, she and her family made donations. In 2017, Knots & Love delivered 129 blankets to the Sturgis Department of Social Services on Sept. 15 — the day before what would have been Apland's 90th birthday. On Oct. 29, the day before the one-year anniversary of Apland's death, Knots & Love delivered 67 blankets, 55 book bags, 32 books, four cans of baby formula, two toys and two backpacks to the Black Hills Children's Home. On Dec. 18, Knots & Love gave 26 blankets, four sweaters, 20 pairs of socks, 21 hats, 12 pairs of mittens and gloves, two cans of baby formula and four toys to Black Hills Children's Home, Wells said. 

Beyond meeting physical needs, Wells and her siblings use Knots & Love as a way to spread hope and encouragement. The Knots & Love motto is that everyone has value and everyone can make a difference. 

"The elderly and shut-ins can feel shut off from society. Well-meaning families may come to visit, but find themselves glancing at their watches after they're run out of conversation. I've had individuals tell me that, like Dad, they felt like they didn't have value and wanted that to change. Having a project like Knots & Love gives people a common ground, a goal and a chance to make a difference," Wells said. 

Knots & Love also has helped Apland's family find a positive way to channel their grief over their beloved dad.

"Something my family and I learned is when something bad happens to you, it's so important to find or create something good so you have balance," Wells said. "Being part of somebody's solution becomes your solution."

Heading into 2018, Wells said Knots & Love will continue to take donations year-round. More important, she said, the project will encourage people to simply find ways to make a positive difference in others' lives.

"Look around and see what people need. ... Bring a sick person soup. ... Maybe your family can shovel a neighbor's sidewalk. How about taking a plate of cookies to a shut-in, or writing an encouraging letter to a soldier?" Wells said. "There's a lot of ways you can make a difference." 

For more information, go to the Knots & Love Facebook group.