SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)– Multiple school districts in eastern South Dakota have begun expansion projects to help with the growing number of students, including Mitchell, Vermillion and Harrisburg. 


Residents in the Mitchell School District will vote tonight to include a $17 million athletic facility in the new high school. 

The new school, which will cost $62 million, broke ground a month ago. The bond issue residents will be voting on is an addition to the new school that includes a main gymnasium, auxiliary gymnasium, locker rooms, weight rooms, gymnastics area, wrestling room and cheer and dance spaces.

A 60 percent approval is needed for the bond issue to pass and if passed, work will begin immediately to include the new athletic facility in the current construction. If it doesn’t pass, the gym at the old high school across the street will continue to be utilized.

The new high school, with or without the athletic facility, will be ready for students in August 2025. 

Steve Culhane, the Mitchell School District business manager, said the current school is 61 years old and not equipped for the current class sizes or technological needs of the school.

“It’s basically to meet all the needs of education in 2023 as compared to when they built the school in 1962,” Culhane said. 


The Vermillion School District is facing a similar problem with outgrowing their current two elementary schools. They are just over their halfway mark with construction on a new elementary school connected to the existing middle school.

The new school will be able to house 700 students with room to grow and wings for each grade that will have five classrooms and a large common space

“We had to decide if we were going to stick significant dollars into two aging elementary schools or if it would make more sense to add one new facility,” Vermillion Superintendent Damon Alvey said. “We’re a growing district, we’ve expanded with students in the last six years, so it just made sense for us to look at building a brand new facility to house those kids.” 

The current schools–Austin Elementary with 300 students and Jolly Elementary with 400 students– are both 67 years old. Alvey said the limited space, growing class sizes and introduction of new positions and programs prompted them to build a new school.

“They’re basically full to capacity,” Alvey said about Austin Elementary. “We’re using every availability that we have, we share spaces with music and library, we use our stage for a classroom.”

Since the pandemic, the two schools have added new positions and programs like a smart lab, school psychologist, behavior integrationist, curriculum director and an additional nurse. All of these positions require space, which Austin and Jolly couldn’t provide anymore. 

Alvey says the school district is partnering with the city to turn Jolly Elementary into a future housing development with a park and tennis courts. Austin Elementary is hoping to become the new location for the Boys and Girls Club of the Northern Plains.

“Those are both needed entities in our community and our school board and our school district wanted to try to repurpose these buildings if at all possible,” Alvey said. 


The Harrisburg School District has also seen major growth over the past 20 years. Since 2001, the district has seen a 629 percent increase in student population. Superintendent Tim Graf said the district grows by around 300 students each year. 

“Harrisburg has been a district for a long time, but the boundaries haven’t changed. So what happened is Sioux Falls has grown into the district, not the other way around,” Graf said. “We probably have about two-thirds of our students that come from the Sioux Falls zip code and about 1/3 of the students come from the Harrisburg zip code.”

To meet this growing demand, the school district has started construction on three new schools. 

East Middle School and the Harrisburg Freshman Academy are set to open their doors in fall 2023 and will cost a combined total of $72 million. 

The freshman academy will house all ninth graders throughout the district and will eventually become a full 9-12th grade high school when capacity at the current school is met. Once the academy opens, the high school will be for 10-12th graders. 

The new, unnamed elementary school is meant to take pressure off Liberty Elementary, which currently has 600 students, as the two schools are within the same boundaries. The new school will house either first through fifth grade or second through fifth grade. Liberty will transition into an early childhood center for pre-k, Head Start, Kindergarten and possibly first grade, according to Graf. 

The new elementary school received a bid for $30 million and is set to open fall 2024. 

Harrisburg School District has hired 74 positions this year to accommodate the new schools and students. While some of those positions are replacing teachers who have retired or left the school district, Graf said most of them are entirely new positions.