Leaders for the state Board of Regents want an analysis of the increasing demand for funding of maintenance and repairs at South Dakota’s public universities.

The directive from board president Bob Sutton and vice president Kevin Schieffer came last week at the meeting at Dakota State University. During the gathering in Madison, regents approved moving ahead on new facilities, or for purchasing or making renovations at existing ones.

The project list covered Northern State University in Aberdeen, University of South Dakota in Vermillion, School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City, South Dakota State University in Brookings and Dakota State.

The regents operate a higher education facilities fund known as HEFF. Its funding comes from a portion of student tuition. HEFF is used frequently to finance projects but also provides money for maintenance and repairs based on a building’s size.

The projects approved Thursday would use various sources for funding, including raising millions of dollars from private donations.

The related question is how universities pay for keeping buildings in shape when the system’s enrollments generally have been flat for years. The issue is important to the regent system and to current and future students, Sutton said Monday.

“As we continue to expand and grow our campus facilities, many thanks to the generosity of tremendous donors, we also have to be sensitive to the fact that such buildings will need maintenance in the future. This is especially true when new buildings are built but no buildings are taken out of commission. We then have the responsibility for taking care of an even greater number of facilities.

“We (regents) owe it to our students and to future board members to be sure we take a look at this process and evaluate alternatives,” Sutton said.

He and Schieffer called for the report to be presented before the board’s next meeting Dec. 5-7 at the School for the Deaf in Sioux Falls.

Schieffer said Thursday the challenge is “very fundamental to figure out something systemically” and “raise a flag” for Gov. Dennis Daugaard and legislators.

Sutton in turn suggested the regents need “a systemwide global discussion” about maintenance and repair. “I’m just curious if there’s something we should do,” he said.

The regents govern six traditional university campuses, including Black Hills State University in Spearfish. They also oversee three university centers in Rapid City, Sioux Falls and Pierre and two specialty campuses that include the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Aberdeen and the deaf school.

Sutton took up the conversation a second time Thursday during consideration of a new precision-agriculture building planned at SDSU.

He said the regents must consider maintenance and repair — “period.”

“I’m not picking on any project,” Sutton said. “We’re going to have to figure this out sooner or later.”

“I absolutely agree with you,” added Regent Pam Roberts of Pierre.

Schieffer said the report should start with the history of HEFF and the universities' use of maintenance and repair. He said the current approach is “less and less sustainable.”

“I’m looking at a report with a trend line for the future,” Schieffer said. “Something, I think, has to be done.”

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