CUSTER | Remodeling is expected to begin in little more than a month to convert the former STAR Academy south of here into a light industrial and commercial business park for the southern Black Hills.
Jared Carson, president and CEO of the park, operating under the name Sustainable Light Industrial Campus, said a group of investors and partners he represents recently closed on the 173-acre complex five miles south of Custer after successfully meeting the minimum price of $2.34 million as the lone bidder at a state auction in January.
The campus dates back to 1911, as the location of the South Dakota State Sanitorium for treatment of the highly contagious and, at the time, highly feared lung disease tuberculosis. The facility became its own little town, known as Sanator.
The sanitorium was later remodeled as the Custer State Hospital for the severely disabled, closing in 1996 when it become the State Training And Rehabilitation Academy for juvenile offenders.
The STAR Academy closed in 2016 following the passage of juvenile justice reforms resulting in a dwindling number of children at the facility.
After the STAR Academy closed, the state budgeted $750,000 annually for maintenance while looking for a buyer of the campus. A scheduled first auction for November 2017 drew no bids at or above the set minimum of $2.34 million.
At a Friday ribbon-cutting and open house, Carson said both the state of South Dakota and SLICe benefitted from the sale.
“We’ve been given the opportunity to try something new and exciting and the state got loose of a liability,” he said.
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Carson said SLICe — with the lower case “e” standing for "energy and a number of other things” — could become home for a wide variety of small businesses and light industries.
The historic Mediterranean-style main building, he said, lends itself to office space, a call center or an educational facility.
“There are a lot of things that could fit together in this building,” he said.
First up on the to-do list, he said, is to begin exterior cleanup and beautification of the campus, situated among the pines along south U.S. Highway 385.
Carson said he’s looking for a buyer for chain-link fencing and razor wire used to secure outdoor recreation areas for the juvenile detention center. Some of the buildings included on the campus may not be usable because of the lack of adequate maintenance over the years.
“Right now, it’s too early to say, but I do have my suspicions,” he said. “Some of them may go away.”
Changes are expected to begin to the property once a master development plan, a topographical survey and other studies are complete.
“Then we’ll be ready to execute,” Carson said.