Public school students in Lake Andes, South Dakota, will soon attend classes in state-of-the-art facilities in the heart of town. For years, local leaders have wanted to upgrade the district’s outdated buildings by renovating the elementary school and expanding it to house the junior high and high schools, now located in a separate building across town. With the support of two community development financial institutions (CDFIs), the Andes Central School District has broken ground on its new, combined campus.
The project was made possible through Uplift America, a public-private partnership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), philanthropy and the financial sector. It provides long-term, low-cost financing for community lenders such as CDFIs to facilitate community projects like schools, health clinics, libraries, municipal buildings and child care centers in underserved rural communities. Many of these areas are experiencing persistent poverty: 20 percent or more of their populations have lived in poverty for at least 30 years. Through Uplift, the first five years of the USDA loans are guaranteed by Bank of America. Seven private foundations contributed to a grant pool known as the Uplift America Fund to help the re-lenders build their capacity.
Lake Andes is a town of about 850 people, 29 percent of whom live below the poverty line. All of the students in Andes Central Schools are eligible for free lunch. Located on the Yankton Indian Reservation 95 miles southwest of Sioux Falls, the community has a large Native American population: 40 percent of residents and 70 percent of students in the school district are Native American.
Built in the 1950s, the community’s schools have needed renovations for years. But financing for the $13 million project has been hard to obtain because of difficulties raising property taxes in low-wealth communities and on Indian Reservations. The two CDFIs involved—Dakota Resources and Rural Electric Economic Development Fund (REED)—solved that problem by agreeing to provide loans of up to $4,875,000 each. The school district is funding the remainder of the project.
“The facility they had in town was old,” said Linda Salmonson, Economic Development Manager for REED. “From the outside, it looks like it's going to be a very nice structure, but right now it's still a construction zone.”
Renovations include adding 55,000 square feet to the elementary school and remodeling 24,000 square feet of existing space. When it is finished, the renovated school will include new classrooms, science labs, two gymnasiums and space dedicated to industrial arts. For the CDFIs, this sort of technical education is one of the highlights of the project. Teaching students technical skills could help retain the area’s population and stabilize the region.
The school district broke ground on the renovated school building in the summer of 2017. Construction is on track to be complete in late 2018.