By Jeremy Hoeck
VERMILLION — The final step in the approval process for new athletic facilities at the University of South Dakota could be granted this week in Pierre.
In what he called one of the “last procedural hurdles,” USD interim athletic director David Herbster said last week that he is confident the South Dakota Legislature will give the OK to the $48.2 million project for a new sports performance facility arena and a new outdoor track/soccer complex in Vermillion.
Senate Bill 8, introduced at the request of the S.D. Board of Regents, seeks the approval from the legislature to “finance, design, construct, furnish and equip” the facility projects.
The Regents began their presentation Monday morning, Jan 28, in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and continued that hearing Tuesday, Jan. 27, from 8 a.m. to noon in Pierre.
“We have the backing of the (USD) Foundation, the approval of the Board of Regents, and now we just need the Legislature,” Herbster said. “At that point, we have to hit critical mass.
“We’ll have to go back to the Regents with enough of the funding so we can put a shovel in the dirt.”
With approximately $10 million remaining to raise for the projects, Herbster believes construction could begin this year.
“But people need to step up to do it,” he said. “We need the signed pledges. We’re not going to stop fund-raising. Even when we put a shovel in the dirt, we’re not going to stop.
“We haven’t done something of this magnitude in a long time, but I think it’s time,” he added. “This what will separate us from everybody else.”
However, Herbster said he was unsure when the Appropriations Committee would vote on the bill.
Financing could be the sticking point to the bill, Herbster pointed out. According to the bill, the South Dakota Building Authority may finance up to $22.7 million of the construction costs through revenue bonds.
Funding for the approximately 6,000-seat arena and track/soccer complex would come from cash donations, a pledge from the USD Foundation, athletic revenues and debt financing.
The sports performance facility, on the other hand, would have funding from the Higher Education Facilities Fund (HEFF) and donations because of its academic component.
USD received approval from the Regents last October for the funding sources, and although fundraising has continued to progress, the athletic department staff saw some significant shuffling when athletic director David Sayler resigned in December.
“My whole concern in the process is that nothing back here slips through the cracks,” Herbster said. “Things aren’t going to stop.”
Apparently neither are the pledges. Herbster said USD received two “pretty sizable commitments” last week and is waiting on a possible third.
In the meantime, the USD administration – notably President Jim Abbott and Vice President of Finance Sheila Gestring – prepared for this week’s presentation to the Legislature, Herbster said.
“Our administration has done its homework, and have done enough, I think, to put this thing in the best possible position to be presented and moved forward,” he said.
Of course, there could be other issues that pop up that may need further attention, he added.
“Even when we made our presentation to the Legislature, we gave them plenty of chances to ask questions,” Herbster said. “They did ask pretty good questions, and we had a lot of ‘That makes sense’ or head nods.”
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