Written by Jennifer Buddenborg
It has been a year since 11 historic buildings on the Human Services Center (HSC) campus in Yankton, South Dakota were placed on America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list. To continue the public dialogue on the importance of these buildings and their potential for re-use, the Yankton County Historical Society, Preserve South Dakota, and National Trust for Historic Preservation hosted a public open house at the Mead Building on May 2nd – the beginning of Preservation Month.
More than 500 people from Yankton and surrounding communities, including those in Nebraska, toured the Mead Building interior and learned of the threats facing the larger campus and promising re-use of the Mead Building as the new Dakota Territorial Museum. One hundred visitors were taken on guided walking tours of the larger historic campus. Attendees were asked how they thought the buildings should be re-used, offering many creative ideas like a convention center, community college, cultural center, and senior housing.
Despite this broad public support the state of South Dakota is still planning to demolish the buildings. HSC administrators are not interested in issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) for development projects. That, coupled with the economic downturn, has made it difficult to identify developers interested in investing in adaptive use projects. As a result, two buildings, Haas (1956) and Edmunds (1951), are currently undergoing asbestos removal in preparation for their demolition. These two buildings were used for staff and family housing and are perhaps the best suited of all the buildings for a residential re-use.
Once these buildings are demolished, not only will the bricks and mortar be lost, so too will the opportunity for economic reinvestment and sustainable development. It seems careless to spend public dollars on demolition when those dollars could instead be invested in development for the public benefit.
That is why the Human Services Center Advocacy Coalition, a group of dedicated advocates led by the National Trust, meets on a monthly basis to devise tools, develop partnerships, and identify re-uses for the threatened buildings. Based on the open house event attendance, it is clear that the Yankton and surrounding communities believe that this place matters. The National Trust and its partners continue to fight for its protection.
Jennifer Buddenborg is a program officer in the Mountains/Plains Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.