What’s next for STAR Academy?

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The non-auction for the former STAR Academy buildings and 174 acres last Wednesday, Oct. 18, leaves a lot of questions. The big question would naturally be, what happened? Why were there no viable bidders? What scared off potential bidders? Was the property properly marketed? And the biggest one yet, what happens now?

The $2.34 million figure set by the state Board of Appraisers seemed reasonable considering the aging condition of the more than 20 buildings and 174 acres of Black Hills land. State officials in the governor’s office publicly disclosed it cost $500,000 annually to maintain the buildings on the campus just five miles south of Custer. That’s probably one reason the state wants to divest itself of the property and another good reason potential bidders could have been scared off.

Then, too, there is the question of proper marketing of the property. It seems there should have been more awareness of the potential $2.34 million sale. One area legislator pointed out there wasn’t even a sign in front of the property indicating it was for sale. It is common practice among all the private sector realtors to place their signs in front of property they have listed for sale.

Another indication of poor marketing was only three parties registering for the auction prior to it being held at 11 a.m. last Wednesday. This would have been OK if one of the three was a serious bidder with the financial means to close the deal. Not one of the three offered to open bidding at the minimum $2.34 million needed. The state could not sell the property for less.

At least three state legislators tried to postpone or cancel the auction early last week, alleging that the sale wasn’t properly handled. Their request was turned down by the governor’s office at the last minute. We hope state legislators will take another look at the possibility of repurposing the former academy for the third time in its history. One of the three legislators wanting the sale postponed was Sen. Neal Tapio of Watertown who would like to see it turned into a facility where some kind of life skills could be taught. We will, no doubt, hear about this proposal as time goes on, but it opens up another avenue of discussion for the property.

A total of 64 jobs were lost when the facility finally closed its doors in April 2016. Many of these people were able to find other opportunities at the new State Veterans Home in Hot Springs. Others had to move in order to find work elsewhere.

The ideal situation would be for some entity, public or private, to open a facility on the property that would result in year-around job creation, which is what this area desperately needs. The possibilities are limitless when we are talking about addiction treatment or Alzheimer’s/dementia facilities which seem to be lacking at this end of the state. We hope that with more time to study possible uses of the former academy grounds we can come up with some new ideas that will benefit this area and South Dakota.

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