State Historical Office, Madison Residents Say DSU Campus Green Bad Spot for Beacom Building

Dakota State University announced plans last June to plunk the new Miles Beacom IT building on the southeast corner of campus. That chunk of campus is currently part of DSU’s verdant oasis in the Madison Historic District. But that shady green space and the lovely view of historic East Hall apparently isn’t impressive enough for recent administrations who view Washington Avenue as the main entrance to campus and think that “gateway” would be grander with a modern edifice showing off a big donor’s name:

After reviewing the pros/cons regarding the location of the Beacom IT building, as well as consulting multiple constituents, including our primary donor, Miles Beacom, we have decided that the best location of the new Beacom IT Building is the southeast side of campus adjacent to East Hall.  Key factors that solidified this decision include:

  • Washington Ave is the main corridor to campus, and with the Trojan Center renovation and acquisition of the hospital property, this corridor will become a focal point for the campus.
  • The SE side of campus will serve as the first impression for individuals – including prospective students and their parents – when they visit campus.  Locating the building on this site will help the campus gain notoriety in the region.
  • The SE location allows Lowry to remain and continue to provide needed space on campus.  As indicated in the Master Plan, a future facility could be located on this site [Interim President Marysz Rames, VP Academic Judy Dittman, and VP Admin Stacy Krusemark, Dakota State University, e-mail to steering committee, 2015.06.05].

Madison Daily Leader publisher Jon Hunter thinks that location is a bad idea. So does South Dakota’s State Historic Preservation Office. In a letter dated August 25, 2015, SHPO Director Ted Spencer and historic preservation officer Jay Vogt tell DSU VP Admin Stacy Krusemark that building Beacom Hall south of East Hall on Washington Avenue will “encroach upon historic property that is included in the National and State Registers of Historic Places” and that “feasible and prudent alternatives have not been explored”:

During the site visit on August 19, 2015, it was noted that DSU will need to construct two additional buildings to accommodate campus growth and additional programming. However, it is unclear why the site of the existing Lowry Hall or the site of the Madison hospital, which is being acquired by DSU, are not feasible alternative locations for the Beacom IT Building. It does not appear that a building use/feasibility study has been done to show whether the Lowry Hall site or the former Madison hospital could be used to house the programs proposed for the new Beacom IT Building in conjunction with other program space.

It was noted during the sit visit on August 19, 2015, that the DSU Foundation owns the property on the southeast corner of 6th Street NE and Lee Avenue. Although this area is still within the boundary of the Madison Historic District, the properties on the south side of 6th Street NE between Lee and Washington Avenues are considered non-contributing to the Madison Historic District. Therefore, SHPO recommends exploring the feasibility of purchasing these properties with the intent to expand campus to the south [Ted Spencer and Jay Vogt, State Historic Preservation Office, letter to Stacy Krusemark, Dakota State University, 2015.08.25].

DSU Beacom Building, as envisioned on the hospital site in 2013.
DSU Beacom Building, as envisioned on the hospital site in 2013.

My initial inclination would be to go for the Lowry/hospital tandem plan before trying to expand southward. Replacing Lowry, a boxy old 1958 dorm, with a fancy new IT building would make the other entrance to campus, along the beautiful boulevarded Egan Avenue that hosts DSU’s homecoming parade, notably more impressive without taking away from existing aesthetic appeal. Siting Beacom Hall on the newly vacated hospital property would give DSU a real landmark on its north entrance at 9th and Washington. Both the Lowry and hospital locations come with built-in off-street parking, which would be harder to come by on the Lee–Washington half block. The only advantage to the Lee–Washington location is that it’s that much closer to El Vaquero for lunch.

But building Beacom in any of those locations makes more sense than tearing up another patch of that beautiful campus green.

My friend and DSU alumnus Charlie Johnson agrees:

The aesthetics and beauty of a campus is something that is priceless and in most cases is irreplaceable. There are other good and workable solutions to the placement of the new classroom building without destroying the precious “green imprint” of Dakota State University [Charlie Johnson, letter to the editor, Madison Daily Leader, 2015.10.16].

So does DSU professor emeritus Eric Johnson:

I was a professor at Dakota State University for 36 years, and, for a decade, I had an office in East Hall, and I taught in classrooms there. I fondly remember strolling across the lawn among the towering trees in front of East Hall. I enjoyed looking down the unbroken expanse of green on the south side of campus. It would be a big mistake to construct a new building in that location — that building would be a blot on an attractive campus.

The objection I’m voicing is not to the new building itself. Regardless of how beautiful the building would be, placing it south of East Hall would break up the well-planned alignment of the campus. It would always be a growth in the wrong place [Eric Johnson, letter to the editor, Madison Daily Leader, 2015.10.06].

So does the class of 1955:

My family has an unusual history with this campus. My father’s mother and father, my mother and father, and my sister and I all attended DSU. My father actually went from kindergarten through college there. Both my grandfather and father were employed by DSU. So you can see why I feel so strongly about this.

I am all for progress and I think the folks at Dakota State have done a wonderful job in keeping the college progressive and a desirable destination for higher education.

However, to destroy a beautiful section of the campus and take many healthy trees out of the environment for this building is unconscionable when there are other locations available. Those locations, from what I understand, are the Lowry Hall site or the old hospital site.

Architects frequently forget to think about the community or those with vested interests in the project. Their main thoughts go to where they think it would like nice neglecting to examine the big picture.

I ran this past my class of 1955, many of whom either attended or graduated form DSU. They were all in agreement that a more extensive feasibility study and more consideration needs to occur before someone bulldozes history and assaults the environment [Jane Tyrrell Hofkamp, letter to the editorMadison Daily Leader, 2015.10.01].

So does Madison Historic District resident John Goeman:

It has come to my attention that Dakota State University is proposing to build a new classroom building on the southeast corner of campus, south and west of East Hall. Construction in this location will block the view of East Hall, one of the beautiful campus historic buildings. It will also mean the destruction of many old trees as well as the beautiful lawn in that location.

Many people believe this is a bad decision and would urge the DSU administration to review alternative sites. Many people would suggest the Lowry site as a showpiece location for the new classroom building, right next to the statue of General Beadle and the Mundt Library [John Goeman, letter to the editor, Madison Daily Leader, 2015.09.28].

When Premier BackCard boss Miles Beacom and usury mentor T. Denny Sanford pledged $5 million for the project, the plan was to build Beacom Hall on the hospital property. DSU then decided it preferred to put Beacom’s name on something new rather than a refurb and got statute revised to allow moving the project. The state’s five-year capital expenditure plan issued this year indicated that DSU planned to put its new IT building on the site of Lowry Hall, the razing of which the Legislature authorized in 2012. DSU said online four days ago that it is “throughly analyzing various locations and designs for the Beacom Building.”

To help DSU with that thorough analysis, supporters of alternate locations for Beacom Hall are holding a public meeting at the Madison Public Library on Monday, October 26, at 7 p.m. Join the conversation Monday, and see if DSU and its big donor will listen.

8 Responses to State Historical Office, Madison Residents Say DSU Campus Green Bad Spot for Beacom Building

  1. John Campbell

    As a former Madison resident and DSU student, I too ask that the Lowry location be the site of any new construction. (The existing space inside Lowry is hardly usable, shaped like a long cramped storage basement.) The leafy green spaciousness along 6th Street is historic, definitive of the campus, and keeps the campus from becoming just another corporate zone of brick and glass rectangles. Keep the green space!

  2. Douglas Wiken

    I think too many architects are more interested in the green color of money instead of the aesthetics of a good design or appropriate location or the green of the environment.

  3. Wade Brandis

    Being a former DSU student myself, I found the campus green to be quite lovely and scenic. It would be a shame if their current plan goes through and the trees and grass get replaced with concrete and bricks, I must wonder though….

    I came across many students who would either sit on the benches outside, or even work on their schoolwork while sitting under a tree. But, many more students seemed to stay put in the TC or in their dorms after class either doing classwork there or playing games like “World of Warcraft”. Or if not that, they went downtown or somewhere else off campus for who knows what. I don’t really know for sure as I never thought about asking students, but if Beacom Hall does get built near East Hall, I feel that a lot of prospective students either won’t care about the green space that came before it or prefer the fancy futuristic concrete and glass buldings. It’s extremely sad, but again, I’m basing this on what I personally saw while at DSU. Correct me if I am wrong. It would be great to hear if there will be major student involvement with the upcoming public meeting.

    It seems a lot of college students stick to their smartphones, tablets or laptops and don’t appreciate nature like they used to. Hence why there are PSA’s on TV and radio urging families and kids to get off the smartphones and other electronic devices and appreciate nature, wherever it may be.

  4. I wonder about the donation itself. Why would any credible institution of higher learning take a donation from a man who fleeced millions of people across the country. Look, I love the idea that a South Dakota organization did well, but they way these guys did it. Just ain’t right.

    I discourage everyone I can from sending their kids to the USD business school because it’s named after such a scammer.

  5. Roy Lindsay

    Another good location would be north of the old Madison Community Hospital on the north side of 9th street where the small parking lot is located. DSU owns all the property from 9th Street to the Dakota Prairie Playhouse. It is at the four way stop and would be a highlight at that intersection with room for further expansion to the north.

  6. Mayor Lindsay makes a good point: using that north location would help tie campus together.

  7. RWB, I suppose DSU faces the same moral quandary as Sanford Hospital, the Sanford Lab, and the Governor as he hands out the Sanford vo-tech scholarships. Has anyone in South Dakota ever turned down a big donation from our usury dons?

  8. Interesting note about the outdoors, Wade, and the distraction of our devices. I suppose DSU could say that its mission doesn’t include inspiring students to appreciate the outdoors. (Going back to the 1980s mission change, Janklow made its mission to provide workers for Citibank… which takes us back to RWB’s angst over taking money from the usurers: it’s actually the most logical source of money for our usury employee mill.) But the school should have an eye for such aesthetics.

    I recall once while hosting the Dakota Invitational interp contest (this weekend at DSU!), President Knowlton offered some opening remarks to the hundreds of assmebled high school speakers and called DSU the prettiest campus in South Dakota. He took great pride in the campus’s green space (or, at this time of year, green and gold).