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Energy-efficient home plant launched at Rosebud

MISSION, S.D. - An older warehouse site on the east side of Rosebud which once housed a manufactured home plant will be renovated and opened to produce highly energy-efficient homes.

Plans for the new venture were announced during a ground-blessing ceremony March 29. Tribal members toured the grounds and discussed plans for new offices and the renovation of a warehouse vacant for years.

Edd Charging Elk, executive director of the Rosebud Tribal President's Association Inc., said the plant will allow a tribally owned entity to bring new jobs and economic development to the area.

Charlie Colombe, an area developer, said the $30,000 renovation will be finished in 60 to 90 days.

Workers at the plant will assemble kits for highly insulated panel houses which resemble a dome and can be modified to fit a variety of floor plans.

The Fiberglas dome homes, which have withstood hurricanes and earthquakes, include 4- to 6-inch foam insulation, making them nearly 50 percent more energy efficient than standard stick-built units.

"Very simply what we are talking about doing is building better houses. We just want to build a home that is stronger than we are currently seeing and just want to cut the energy costs. We want to be able to cut the energy cost by 50 percent and think about what that will do with people with limited resources," Colombe said.

The plant is east of Stadium Sports which serves as a model for the enterprise. The sporting goods store erected several years ago is a Fiberglas-domed structure. Other agencies have begun looking at the use of such structures because of their energy efficiency. A recently completed building housing medical services on the reservation used the same concept.

Charging Elk's organization launched the project without federal or tribal funds.

The association approached the tribal council and the tribe's housing authority trying to engage them in a reservation-based, home building enterprise, but the plan was rejected. The group, composed of members from more than 20 communities, then began searching for other options.

Unhappy with housing options, including government-built homes with little insulation or mobile homes donated as a part of the Walking Shield project that donated surplus military housing, the group began looking for alternatives, Charging Elk said.

The Walking Shield homes, intended to be given to tribal residents, became lease properties for the tribal housing authority. Older, federally funded homes built weren't energy efficient, officials said. Rising heating bills made the need even more apparent to the members of the group who saw tribal residents struggling to pay heating costs.

Charging Elk said he hopes the home building company will contract for housing on a regional level and other enterprises such as community centers. Eight small reservation communities received grants of $140,000 each from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for drug prevention programs. Community centers have been suggested as one way to help meet the need and give youngsters a place to spend their time.

Charging Elk said continued purchase of Janklow homes from the South Dakota Department of Corrections does little for the tribal economy. Instead of spending money on the homes built by the state's inmates and watching it leave the reservation, he said he would rather see an enterprise blossom on the reservation that will fuel the economy and further job growth."

"As a tribal member, if you want to build a house for our people, you have to go to prison. There has to be a better way to train and employ our people."

While Colombe didn't elaborate on how many people would be immediately employed by the new plant, he said he sees tremendous prospect for growth.

"Building and operating a housing factory makes good sense. We have the manpower and the need. "

State Sen. Paul Valandra fully endorsed the project he said will bring new possibilities for tribal residents and a much-needed boost to the area's economy.