By Jeremy Hoeck
All that remains between the first shovels hitting the dirt and construction beginning on a new athletic facility at the University of South Dakota is $9.5 million.
That final surge in fundraising, though, is the final piece in the lengthy process to build a 6,000-seat arena for basketball and volleyball, an outdoor facility for soccer and track, and a Science, Health and Research Laboratory (SHRL).
Approval last week from the South Dakota Board of Regents was met with excitement by USD athletic department and Summit League officials.
“A new basketball arena has been a long time coming,” said Yankton’s Jeremy Kudera, who serves on the Howling Pack board of directors and is a member of USD’s athletic hall of fame.
“It’s no big surprise it was approved, but it’s still nice to see that final step coming and passing,”
In total, the sports and academic complex has a price tag of $66 million, including the arena ($46.3 million), track and soccer complex ($7.3 million) and academic laboratory ($12.6 million).
“This is exciting in that it puts us one step closer to making these projects a reality,” USD athletic director David Herbster said in a release last week.
The plan is to begin construction next spring once USD raises the final $9.5 million, Herbster’s statement continued.
The regents had originally approved USD’s Facility Program Plan in October 2012 at a cost of $48.18 million, and the building committee approved the plan last month.
USD had to adjust its arena and SHRL plans — the arena concourse was reconfigured to be built at concourse level because of water table concerns on site.
Such small modifications have not dampened the enthusiasm for the project, Kudera said.
“It’s been really exciting to watch it all happen,” said the former Coyote men’s basketball standout, now an orthopedic surgeon.
The arena and SHRL will connect to the south side of the DakotaDome, and the building will include two practice courts, locker rooms for basketball and volleyball, a 7,500-square-foot weight room, and a research lab with classrooms and academic offices.
If the arena construction timeline stays close to projections, USD will join three other Summit League basketball programs (IUPUI, North Dakota State, Omaha) that will be playing in new arenas within three years, according to league commissioner Tom Douple.
“Those facility upgrades are huge for our league,” Douple said last week. “That’s positive. It helps recruiting, because facilities are certainly an issue in recruiting.”
Not that the Summit League would move its post-season basketball tournament to the new arena, but there could options for other such events, Kudera said.
“With an arena like this, it’ll be one of the better ones in the region for sure,” he said. “It’s a great tool to have for recruiting purposes, for fans and for all those alumni who could watch in a new place.”
Game attendance at a school like USD should increase in a new arena, Douple said.
“I think it’s better for the fans to attend (games) when there are great accommodations,” he said. “We have a lot of teams playing basketball in facilities that aren’t necessarily designed for basketball.”
In track, particularly, USD has been able to develop into a solid program despite not having its own outdoor track. The Coyotes use the dome for indoor competition.
“We’re really excited with where we’re at,” head women’s track coach Lucky Huber said. “It’s the last hurdle and now we can sprint to the finish, to use a track analogy.
“It’s been fun to go through and sit down with not only our coaches, but the engineers to make this the best track facility in the Midwest.”
The outdoor track and soccer complex will be located east of the DakotaDome, along Highway 50. For track, the facility will include a 9-lane, NCAA-certified track, plus areas for pole vault, long jump, shot put, discus, hammer throw, javelin and triple jump events inside the main stadium.
By including the field events inside the 1,000-seat stadium, USD’s facility will be fan friendly, Huber said.
“It’ll be a neat thing to be able to sit in the bleachers and see all the events happening,” he said. “That’s what will make this an exciting event.”
Huber makes no bones about USD’s goals in designing a state-of-the-art outdoor facility.
“We’re designing this to host the Summit League outdoor meet,” he said. “And maybe an outdoor version of the Dan Lennon.
“It’s a facility that will be able to host Vermillion High School, region meets, conference meets, and maybe ones potentially bigger than that.”
The soccer complex will include two fields — one competition and one practice. It will be located to the east of the track facility.
When it comes to the DakotaDome, however, USD has needed a new location to help alleviate athletic and non-athletic scheduling concerns, Kudera said.
“The dome has been a great facility — nobody would debate that — but it can only do so much,” he said, mentioning such events as the Dakota Farm Show, held annually in the dome.
“When you’re trying to juggle all those things, it gets difficult, to say the least.”
You can follow Jeremy Hoeck on Twitter at twitter.com/jhoeck.