For his first year in the Farm Power program at Mitchell Technical Institute, Bailey Grotewold of Canton, S.D., had to drive back and forth between the old school campus on the north side of Mitchell and an old shop that was rented near the new campus on the south side of town near Interstate 90.
The trip took about 12 minutes and was about six miles back and forth. Sometimes it was a couple trips a day.
With the completion this summer of the $18.5 million Trades Center, those trips aren’t necessary and the students in the Farm Power program – where they learn how to repair farm equipment – have the latest in technology and a lot more space.
“It’s amazing. It’s nice to have enough room to have everything at our disposal,” Grotewold said. The other shop, he said, was simply “small.”
Instructor Darin Maltsberger said they couldn’t even get a combine in the old shop. There’s now room for that, tractors and still room left over. The students even had a grain cart full of soybeans from harvesting at the school’s land lab in the shop to keep it out of the rain earlier this month.
The two other farm programs at MTI – precision agriculture and ag technology (production) – also use the shop.
In addition to the shops on the bottom floor of the two-story, 150,000-square-foot new building, there are also classrooms, a greenhouse, lab space and lockers for the students.
In all, there are 47 classrooms and labs in the Trades Center, including a lecture hall for 112 people.
Of the classrooms, some not yet in use because of hopes for continued growth at the school, 22 are designated as “classrooms” while the remaining 25 are “labs.”
Other programs in the Trades Center are building construction, heating and cooling, electrical and welding and manufacturing,
Moreover, tying into the ag focus part of the building, the South Dakota State University Extension Regional Center has new offices, a conference room and a high-tech meeting room for farmers and ranchers who visit for presentations or classes. It’s just off a spiffy two-level lounge and atrium main entrance area.
Next door to Extension, which moved from the 4-H Building in Mitchell, is the South Dakota Center for Farm/Ranch Management where the state’s producers can enroll for assistance on the business side of their operations.
The Trades Center, which took about 15 months to build, opened in time for the first day of school Aug. 26, said MTI director of marketing and public information Julie Brookbank.
It completes the consolidation of the campus in one location after a long journey that took 12 years and involved the construction of six buildings at a total cost of $46.4 million at the site just off Interstate 90 and near the Dakotafest grounds on the south side of Mitchell.
“Finally, 100 percent of our facilities are all here,” Brookbank said.
She attributes part of MTI’s strong growth in recent years to the new buildings and location. Enrollment has grown about 60 percent in the past five years, including 12 percent this fall for a total of 1,227 students.
Of those, about 150 are in the agriculture-related programs.
Maltsberger said the Farm Power program has 12 students returning from last year and 20 new students this fall, helping in the school growth.
There are also 27 students in the precision ag program and about 90 in the ag production program.
Grotewold said it’s nice having all of the students on one campus.
“It’s helped in school unity,” he said. “We’re a pretty close-knit program, but all of the school is, too,” he said. “This has really helped.”
However, Grotewold also noted that the new addition has given the programs a new independence as they no longer have to share shop areas with the power sports department as that course’s students work on boats, motorcycles and other small engines.
Brookbank said the new facilities have helped attract industry partners, a key to the success of the school.
She said there are probably 60 to 80 farm implement dealerships and other companies tied in with the programs in the Trades Center.
Maltsberger said the dealerships and other companies from across southeast South Dakota loan or donate equipment for students to work on, guarantee students jobs after they complete course work, provide scholarship and internships and hold training sessions at the school for their employees, which students also can attend.
“I think we have even more dealerships than ever helping us now,” Brookbank said. “It’s wonderful. I think they’ve seen the new buildings, and with our growth, they want to have trained and ready students and keep them in the pipeline.”
More equipment is still needed and other companies probably will step up, but the MTI Foundation is working on a $4 million fundraising campaign – with $2.6 million already raised – to help with scholarships and to obtain specialty equipment for shops and labs.
What’s remarkable about the entire MTI project, Brookbank said, is that there weren’t any tax dollars involved in the building construction. That’s also the case with projects at the state’s other three technical institutes.
Except for a few state grants, most of the buildings and furnishings will be paid for by student fees in the coming years through the state’s Health and Educational Facilities Authority (HEFA).
Brookbank said MTI President Greg Von Wold, who saw the need to consolidate the campus and upgrade facilities, lobbied the state to increase the bonding authority from HEFA to allow the school to be first in line for financing to construct the buildings and increase the amount of bonds allowed.
She said MTI hadn’t used any of the HEFA funds to start the project back in the early 2000s, but instead had been relying on its own money to buy the land and start on the first building at the southern site.
“So technically, we have no debt,” Brookbank said.
Instead, the students will be paying back the money in the next 30 years.
With the new buildings and increasing enrollment, it looks like a bright future for the school. As Brookbank put it, “Everything is just popping around here.”