Transformation Center prompts heated discussion at Penn. Co. Commissioners meeting

Posted: Updated:

A proposed Transformation Center in downtown Rapid City prompted heated discussion at Tuesday’s meeting of the Pennington County Commissioners.

Rapid City Collective Impact (RCCI) is an organization with the mission of bringing people together in a structured way to achieve social change. RCCI wants to build an all-inclusive center with services for behavioral health, affordable housing and food security at the corner of Second and Kansas City streets, just east of the public safety building. 

But commissioners are worried.

One of the lone supporters at the meeting was Vaughn Vargas, cultural advisory coordinator with the Rapid City Police Department. Vargas says the Transformation Center could provide hands-on treatment for those struggling with mental health problems.

"I know there's a lot people who support this who are here,” said Vargas, “who pay taxes here, who are Native American, and who really appreciate these services. And that this isn't just a band-aid solution. This a long-term solution. This is probably the most effort you're going to see come along to address these key services. This is not a band-aid opportunity, this is an actual long-term solution to it."

Meanwhile, a large contingent of downtown business owners are concerned that the users of this facility could generate crime and create public safety issues downtown. That opposition group included employees at the Pennington County Administration Building.

District 5 Commissioner Ron Buskerud questioned the location of the shelter.

"We really don't want it over there,” said Buskerud. “Not that it's a bad program. I think it's a terrible location. It's the middle of ... this corridor from down on Fifth Street to the School of Mines. It makes no sense to me, especially when the city is going to finance it. I don't get it. And I think we have an absolute right to know what's going on and ... we have a big investment to protect. And I think we a right to do that."

Tuesday, the commissioners did vote to ramp up security at the Pennington County Administration Building, though funding for it has not yet been determined.

Another concerned entity is the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

Mines Interim President Jan Puszynski issued a statement at the meeting, saying, "We at SD Mines very much support efforts to improve the lives of homeless individuals in our community. We are concerned however, how the proposed location of the transition facility will impact the safety of our students."

Puszynski says the school is interested to know how the RCCI campus would play into the city's downtown development plan for east of Fifth Street.

The Board of Commissioners decided to continue this agenda item at a later date.

RCCI will host a public presentation on the campus in late January.

Today's Forecast