PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Some legislators raised eyebrows Tuesday when they saw for the first time on a map where the South Dakota School for the Deaf is heading
The new location, at 4101 W. 38th Street, is the former Sioux Falls call center that TCF Bank owned. The state Board of Regents paid $5.1 million for the one-story building, which has about 43,000 square-feet of space.
The purchase came as the regents sold the remaining 14 acres of the traditional School for the Deaf campus at 2001 E. Eighth Street in Sioux Falls to Sioux Falls Ministry Center for $6.8 million. The campus was appraised at $6.6 million but the regents wanted $200,000 more.
Nathan Lukkes, the legal counsel for the regents central office, said the $1.8 million would “almost certainly” be used to renovate the call-center. The Sioux Falls offices of South Dakota State University Extension and the state Department of Health will share the new space.
Lawmakers on the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee discussed the transaction Tuesday with Lukkes and Marjorie Kaiser, superintendent for the regents’ two special schools serving the blind and visually impaired in Aberdeen and the deaf in Sioux Falls.
Senator John Wiik, a Big Stone City Republican, showed several other committee members a map on his laptop. For Senator Ryan Maher, an Isabel Republican, it was the first time he saw there was a strip club and a motel nearby.
“It is an interesting location,” Maher remarked.
The site is north of Scarlett O’haras, a men’s bar at 3201 Carolyn Avenue. There are various motels in the neighborhood between I-29 and South Louise Avenue. South of 41st Street is the Sioux Empire Mall and more motels.
Lukkes told lawmakers the Legislature approved bills in 2017 and 2018 that allowed the sale and provided for a conditional land exchange. He said there were two previous near-sales before the three-way deal came together May 14.
That led to a June 3 public hearing, followed by a June 5 sign-off by Governor Kristi Noem and closure of the deal June 7.
Peggy Kuglitsch of Sioux Falls, a former teacher at the deaf school, spoke against the transaction to the committee Wednesday. She argued the TCF call-center wasn’t in a safe area and other two agencies should get their own spaces.
“Why can’t SDSD have its own place? Find a nicer and smaller facility,” Kuglitsch said in a letter that the committee secretary read for her. She said the transaction was “not transparent.”
“Something is wrong with the process,” Kuglitsch said.
Several other people from the deaf community also spoke against it, including Ben Soukup, chairman emeritus of Communication Service for the Deaf, the non-profit that purchased the west side of the School for the Deaf campus two decades ago.
“This is not an ideal location,” Soukup said. “That’s not a school area.” He mentioned the strip club, bar and motels. “I think they just shoved us under the table and did this deal,” he said. He too mentioned what he perceived as a transparency issue: “There was none.”
Representative Steven Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican, seemed to agree about where the new school and offices will be. “It’s a commercial location. It’s not far from that strip club,” Haugaard said.
Lukkes defended the decision. “One of the challenges with the properties — buildings exist where buildings exist,” he said. “After an extensive search of the market, the location checked the most boxes.”
Representative Sue Peterson, a Sioux Falls Republican, asked how the legislators should reconcile what she described as “significant concerns.”
The regents heard those concerns, Lukkes replied.
See the TCF call center: