PIERRE | Legislators seem willing to let the state’s juvenile corrections division proceed with constructing a new maintenance building at the STAR campus on the grounds of the old Custer State Hospital.
But they don’t want the barn that would be demolished under the plan lost to history.
State Corrections Secretary Dennis Kaemingk gave his assurance Friday to members of the House Appropriations Committee that his department will try to save the big red barn “in one way or another” rather than having it razed.
A new steel building with a floor plan of 52 feet by 100 feet and 16-foot walls is planned at a cost of about $190,000. Along with various other costs, including the planned destruction of the barn, an old trusty building and a wood shed, the total project is estimated to run about $215,000.
The House committee gave its endorsement to the spending, but several members made clear they want to allow someone from the general public to either move the barn to other property, so as to preserve the structure, or have someone from the private sector take it down for the lumber and salvage value.
The barn’s exact dimensions weren’t available from DOC officials at the hearing, but the size was estimated at about 120 feet by 36 feet. The barn was reportedly built during the 1930s, when the Custer campus served as the state tuberculosis hospital.
The barn discussion Friday was an example of how legislators sometimes focus very deeply on a seemingly small detail in the broad sweep of state government’s billions of dollars of services and buildings.
Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton, was the first to ask the DOC officials about the barn’s history. Next came Rep. Dick Werner, R-Huron. They were followed by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Fred Romkema, R-Spearfish.
“As a farm boy, I look on this barn very nostalgically,” Romkema said. He acknowledged he wasn’t suggesting the committee should get into micro-management — but… “If you could look at some other plans,” he suggested to Kaemingk.
DOC is looking to consolidate its maintenance operations for the Custer campus at its center. The barn and the next-door trusty unit are dilapidated buildings at a far corner of the campus. The barn’s roof has so many holes that Kaemingk described it as looking from the inside at a sky full of stars in the daytime.
He said an estimate assembled by the state engineer’s office indicated the repairs, including a contingency amount, would total about $87,000.
As for the $190,000 for the new building, Rep. Dan Dryden, R-Rapid City, wondered whether that was too little. Kaemingk said that students in the STAR Academy’s building-trades class would “over time” finish the new building’s interior.
Werner said he would “highly suggest” that DOC advertise to let the public know the barn is available if someone wants to pay to have it removed for their own use, rather than proceed to razing it.
“I just visualize 20 years from now we won’t see many of these structures. It’s a grand structure,” Werner said. “I restored my barn for about $30,000 … far from your estimate.”
Kaemingk said the barn doesn’t meet the needs at the campus. “I’m not sure it has another use for us today, other than storage,” he said.
Rep. Lance Carson, R-Mitchell, asked Werner if he is interested in asking the committee to issue a letter of intent to DOC expressing what is preferred to be done with the barn.
“I do. I really do. It’s a win-win,” Werner said.