There’s no place like Dome

There's no place like Dome
The DakotaDome has remained mostly silent during the Christmas break, and a crew has been taking advantage of the quiet to work on the front concourse floor.

The floor, which takes the punishment of heavy traffic at the 10,000-seat facility, has received an extra coat of protective covering. It's all part of the ongoing facelift for the home of The University of South Dakota Coyotes.

The work will improve both the appearance and use of the front lobby, said USD athletic director Joel Nielsen.

"We are putting on one more final coat on the concourse floor," he said. "They put down the new surface this last summer, and we wanted to see how it would wear during the fall and if we needed changes."

Work must continue whenever possible, Nielsen said. Not only have most students been gone for the holidays, but the USD basketball teams aren't playing at home until after the first of the year, he said.

The concourse work has only affected the front lobby, and a number of other entrances are available, Nielsen added.

The concourse's facelift is not limited to the floor. Visitors notice a number of amenities the minute they enter the front door.

"We have small TVs and tickers out there (in the lobby) showing action inside the Dome," Nielsen said. "If you are in line for the concession stand or restroom, you don't miss any of the sports action."

In addition, the concession stands have expanded their menus, and the restrooms have been improved, he said.

The current DakotaDome work represents the latest phase of a multi-year project, Nielsen said. One of the most visible � and talked about � improvements is the $1.85 million Daktronics scoreboard, funded through sponsorships, he said.

The DakotaDome marks the third straight scoreboard project for Nielsen, who previously worked with them at Wake Forest and Colorado College.

"When you watch people's reactions (to a new scoreboard), it's the same everywhere I have been," he said.

Fans are not the only visitors who take note of the improvements, Nielsen said. Prospective students � particularly athletic recruits � find the Dome to their liking, he said.

"(Football) coach Ed Meierkort just had kids here. He loves recruiting in this place," Nielsen said.

Meierkort agreed, noting the DakotaDome has been a powerful draw. The Coyotes have posted back-to-back 9-2 campaigns, including this fall's first North Central Conference championship since 1978.

The DakotaDome facelift has been dramatic, but the entire campus has seen a construction boom in recent years, Meierkort said. Athletics and academics complement each other, with more students looking at recreational opportunities when choosing a college, he said.

"The first thing kids look at are the facilities," he said. "Under (President Jim) Abbott's guidance, we are changing the entire make-up of the campus."

While the football field itself has seen few changes, the DakotaDome's new look has placed a 12th player on the field in terms of capacity crowds, Meierkort said. The Coyotes went undefeated at home this season.

"(The changes are) all cosmetic and have little to do with the team. Then again, it all has to do with the football team," he said. "The DakotaDome is a showpiece for South Dakota. People take a lot of pride when they come into it."

The extra amenities � and the knowledge that weather won't be a factor � have led to an increased gate, Meierkort said. The indoor temperature in the 70s adds to fan comfort, Meierkort said.

The DakotaDome has received a huge boost of television exposure from Coyote and state high school football championship games, Meierkort said. In addition, many of the high school fans attending the title games are seeing the Dome for the first time.

"It just keeps the DakotaDome in the minds of people from South Dakota," he said. "It reminds them that it's the number one place to witness athletic events."

While much has been accomplished, much remains to be done, Nielsen said. "Hopefully, each project going on in here makes for a better experience of the fans, students and athletes," he said.

Much of the current work is not visible to visitors, Nielsen said. USD remodeled 5,000 square feet of women's locker rooms last summer, and the next focus will be on the sports medicine and equipment areas and the men's locker rooms, he said.

The upgraded facilities help USD comply with gender-equity requirements, he said. "It's part of our three-year plan. We want to provide first-class facilities for all our students, regardless of gender," he said.

The improved facilities will hopefully attract more donors, Nielsen said. "Like most departments, we are in a perpetual fund-raising mode," he said.

Colleges of all sizes are building new facilities in an increasingly competitive environment, Meierkort said.

The secret lies not only in construction but in maintenance, he said. "It's no different than maintaining a highway. Once you are complete, you start again," he said.

Nielsen agreed on the importance of continual upgrades. "You are never in the home stretch. You always have a list of needs," he said.

However, the effort is well worth it, Meierkort said. "We will keep upgrading in order to keep the kids and to have something for the people of South Dakota to be proud of," he said.

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