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Council to make arena decision in February

A special city council meeting will be held in February to determine the future of Barnett Arena and Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. 

The council will be presented with two options — remodel Barnett Arena or build a new facility — and then asked to approve a funding plan. 

Mayor Steve Allender said in an interview that he will hold more public presentations on the two options in January and February, ahead of the special meeting. An exact date for the special meeting has not been set. 

"I will present until no one shows up," Allender said, adding that he will also be speaking with private groups and business organizations. "It's an important issue." 

Allender has said in previous presentations 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. 

Remodeling Barnett Arena would cost up to $28.3 million, including interest. That plan would also take money from the Vision Fund, but with lower annual debt payments and a quicker payoff period.

The city must move forward with one of the two options because Barnett 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, 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 $180 million expansion of Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. 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.

Allender said the 2015 plan to pay for a new arena would have drained the city's Vision Fund, while his current proposal utilizes just over half of the fund.

Allender, who has made no secret of his preference for a new arena, said he believes that through the public presentations and greater transparency, he is changing the minds of people who are skeptical about the need for a new facility. 

"It's a very safe plan," he said.  

New center to boost mental health services

The Community Health Center of the Black Hills at 350 Pine St. has a fresh, modern look and feel. But wander down a long, narrow hallway toward the administrative offices and open a nondescript door to your left and you’ll happen across the lone remaining unfinished area of the two-year-old building.

The “sandbox,” as the center’s CEO Tim Trithart called it on Thursday afternoon, contains little more than a smattering of tools and work stations atop a soft, spongy dirt floor. By next autumn, though, Trithart hopes to transform the 3,000-square-foot space into a mental health center for the more than 14,000 patients who walk through the center’s doors each year.

Last week, the Rapid City Council authorized Mayor Steve Allender and Finance Department Director Pauline Sumption to sign an agreement that will see the city contribute about $520,000 from its Vision Fund toward design and construction of the space. The funding was initially approved in December 2016.

The center’s development and impending construction serves as a bright spot of news in an area of health care that has had little of late, with the lack of accessible, quality mental health care in western South Dakota further exacerbated by policy changes by Rapid City Regional Hospital in February limiting the treatment of behavioral health patients.

Last month, former state representative Al Scovel said South Dakota has treated the state’s mentally with “abject neglect.” The closest state run mental health facility is in Yankton, about 350 miles away.

For Trithart’s organization, incorporating mental health care into his organization is a logical extension of the current services offered, which include primary, pediatric, adult and dental care, along with the recent introduction of a pharmacy. About 20 percent of the patients served at the center have some mental health diagnosis and most of the people they serve could be categorized as “working poor,” Trithart said.

“It’s just another step in terms of us taking care of the whole person,” he said, adding that according to the most recent study he’d seen, about 50 percent of mental health conditions get treated by family practice providers. By creating this space, Trithart hopes to get those patients in front of more qualified practitioners.

Though funding is always a challenge — especially as the federal grant monies supporting the center remain in limbo as Congress tries to keep the government funded and avoid another shutdown — the real challenge for Trithart will be finding staff.

Recently, the center received a grant to hire an “integrated mental health social worker” who will work with people with mental health diagnoses as well as opioid issues. Trithart must find someone qualified for that position and four other full-time employees to staff the new center. He also continues to search for someone to join their pharmacy who is qualified and skilled at prescribing mental health drugs to patients.

Once the center is constructed and staffed, Trithart says it will help his approximately 85 staff members treat the causes of their patient’s symptoms a bit better rather than simply addressing the symptoms that may be caused by an underlying mental health issue.

“Our goal,” Trithart said, “is to basically get a little further upstream.”

Journal's Christmas paper delivered early

Merry Christmas and happy holidays from all of us at the Rapid City Journal. You've likely already noticed that you received the Christmas paper a day early this year.

Our outstanding employees assembled this paper early, and the workers at the press plant printed it Saturday night so it could be delivered with the regular Sunday paper. By printing and delivering our Christmas newspaper early, we were able to make sure that each one of our more than 100 employees got a day off this Christmas.

The season is much more special when you are able to spend it with family or friends. That holds true for our employees as well.

Because of the early deadline, you will notice a few changes to the paper. First the weather page will have the most up-to-date forecast for our area as of Saturday night.

Also, our sports page will not have the latest scores and highlights from all of Sunday's games. However, that information will be in Tuesday's newspaper. 

From all of us at the Journal, merry Christmas, and have a wonderful holiday season. 


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Big Brothers Big Sisters program gives teen 'a friend for life'

An anonymous donor has pledged to match the first $100,000 donated by Dec. 31 to United Way of the Black Hills annual fundraising campaign. Every dollar given in the next few days can make twice as big an impact on people like Sean Fulton and Dominic Cogan, who became friends for life through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is one of 55 nonprofit agencies that receive support from United Way of the Black Hills. United Way’s goal for its 2017-18 fundraising campaign is $2,317,000 for the Black Hills region, and 80 percent has been raised.

Karin Humar, marketing manager for United Way of the Black Hills, said donating any amount, especially before year’s end, makes a difference. “Even $20 counts. It all adds up,” Humar said. “We’re really trying to get the word out to people that the money does stay (local), and every little bit counts.”

The Big Brothers program gave Dominic the chance to fulfill his desire to learn to hunt. His mother, Jessica, encouraged his interest but isn’t a hunter herself. Then, she learned about South Dakota Youth Hunting Adventures, a program that pairs youths with experienced hunters who mentor the kids on hunting trips and help them develop hunting skills.

Mentors apply to participate in South Dakota Youth Hunting Adventures through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, which screens and matches mentors and youths. Dominic was 12 when he and Fulton were matched in July 2014.

“I liked Sean because he hunts with a bow and arrow. He’s cool. I was comfortable right away,” Dominic said. “After (we were matched), I was shy for the first six months to a year, and after that I didn’t stop talking.”

“It was hard at first. We didn’t communicate much, but one of best things when we are successful is he can’t ever turn his smile off," Fulton said. "You can tell he had a really good time, and that’s probably the best part about it. It’s been pretty amazing to watch him grow as a person.”

The two spend time together year-round, but especially during hunting season. They sometimes camp and canoe, as well as shoot geese, elk and deer. Two bucks are mounted and hanging on the Cogans’ living room wall, Jessica said, and her freezer is full of game Dominic has hunted.

“Dominic gets to experience things that (I couldn’t provide). I wouldn’t take him hunting. I couldn’t gut a deer,” Jessica said. “Sean has shown Dominic some independence and responsibility.”

Fulton’s commitment to Dominic earned him “Mentor of the Year” award from South Dakota Youth Hunting Adventures.

Fulton also has taught Dominic to drive and has been a positive influence in helping Dominic stay focused on maintaining good grades, Jessica said. Dominic’s goal is to become an internist and ultimately, a neurosurgeon.

Jessica also praised Fulton’s wife, Andrea, who sometimes hunts with her husband and Dominic and who has welcomed Dominic into the couple’s home.

“Sean is an amazing man and mentor. He has gone above and beyond for Dominic,” Jessica said. “If Dom needs someone to talk to or advice, he knows he can go to Sean, anytime or anywhere, and Sean will set aside time to be there for him. … If I needed Sean to talk to Dom about something that would be more related to a man, Sean would do it in a heartbeat.”

“Thank you to everybody that donates to Big Brothers and United Way. If it wasn’t for (them), I don’t know that a lot of these kids would get to do what they do,” Jessica said.

Dominic and Fulton both agree their friendship will last long after Dominic ages out of the Big Brothers program.

“I think (being a Big Brother) is a fantastic opportunity for anyone to create relationships and friendships and help others experience things they might not on their own,” said Fulton, who believes mentoring Dominic has prepared him for becoming a parent in the future.

“I have a feeling I have a friend for life. I feel like I have a son now,” Fulton said.

Dominic is one of many Black Hills residents who have benefitted from the services of multiple organizations that are supported by United Way; in addition to Big Brothers, he used go to the Club for Boys and played basketball at the YMCA. Community donations to United Way are especially vital this year because less government funding is available, Humar said.

All money raised is used locally to support nonprofits that promote better health, education and financial stability for thousands of Black Hills residents, Humar said.

To donate to United Way, text the keyword UWBH to 40403, send donations to United Way of the Black Hills, 6th St. Suite 100, Rapid City SD 57701, or go to If you know of someone who needs immediate assistance, call 2-1-1, a 24/7 operating Helpline Center.