VERMILLION — No longer just a vision of what will be, the new athletic facilities at the University of South Dakota are nearing their long-anticipated construction start.
The official ground-breaking date is set.
USD, which has been fundraising for an overall project that emcompasses four new facilities, will break ground on those projects the week following spring commencement — which will be held Monday, May 12 at the DakotaDome.
The announcement was made Sunday to coordinate with the Summit League basketball tournament, but the work started long ago and is far from done, according to athletic director David Herbster.
“Having that day, with all the work we’ve done for the last three years, come to fruition and be able to see the progress, it’s rewarding,” he said.
The total price? A combined $66 million. The target completion date? Ahead of the 2016-17 academic year.
The jewel of the projects is a 6,000-seat arena for basketball and volleyball, which will be connected to the DakotaDome on the south side by a Science, Health and Research Laboratory.
To the east of the DakotaDome will be a 9-lane outdoor track and field complex, as well as new soccer fields (one competition and one practice).
Amy Williams joked that coaches won’t mind all that construction noise.
“That’ll definitely be a great problem to have,” the Coyote women’s basketball coach said, chuckling, “because it means there’s progress.”
Herbster estimated that USD was still approximately $9 million short in fundraising, but added that the administration will know the maximum construction cost in two weeks.
“Until then, it’s been mostly estimates and design details,” he said. “Now they can tell us what it’ll cost.”
There remains four or five “million dollar gifts” out there, according to Herbster, that the administration is working to secure.
“When you’re asking someone to sign over a million bucks, it takes a while,” he said.
The only significant change in the design phase was taking the proposed 3-story Science, Health and Research Laboratory — to be connected south of the dome — and making it a 1-story facility, because of costs associated with digging that far underground.
Other than that, the plans have remained rather consistent, save for a few minor tweaks.
The two biggest immediate impacts with having a new basketball home will be recruiting and scheduling, Williams said.
Recruiting benefits are obvious: “That’s something kids look at in highly-competitive recruiting battles,” Williams said. “They see a new film room, a locker room, a new practice court.”
With scheduling home games to the DakotaDome, USD has consistently run into issues with the November overlap between the end of football season and the start of basketball.
“Not having to schedule our first couple weeks on the road every year will be so nice,” Williams said.
Other programs across the Coyote landscape that will be affected by the changes are understandbly just as excited.
Ever the track guru, Lucky Huber equated the announcement to being 300 meters through a 400-meter race.
“It doesn’t seem like it, but it’s been a long process,” said Huber, the head women’s track coach. “Our kids are really looking forward to it, and us as coaches are really anxious, too.”
The timing will work out rather well for USD to showcase its new track complex. As part of the conference rotation, USD is scheduled to host the 2016 Summit League Outdoor Track & Field Championships that May.
“That’s been our pushing point, to be able to build our program to make a run at a title that year,” Huber said.
If, though, the outdoor track is not ready for the spring of 2016, USD could potentially host the Summit League meet in Yankton, according to Herbster.
While that option is nice to have, Huber said competing on its own track would mean so much more.
“We love coming over there (to Yankton), but to have our own track, that would be a really special thing for our program,” he said.
The same goes for soccer, but in a far different sense.
While track has other options, soccer has consistently battled the conditions on its lone field, according to head coach Mandy Green.
“To be honest, we don’t even show our field when recruits come,” she said. “We show them what it’s going to be. That’s been a big point of conversation with all the recruits, that, ‘Here’s what it will look like.’”
Although details are still being worked out, there is a chance one field — either the practice or competition field — in the new complex could have turf, Green said.
Perhaps more importantly in the short term, USD could be playing in its new home by 2015, she added.
“That obviously could change based on construction, but we definitely tell them (recruits) by that the time they’re sophomores, they could be playing there,” said Green, who added that a new complex would ease some scheduling difficulties.
The academic laboratory, or connector building, was redesigned — from a 3-story facility to one story — last year and boasts a cost of nearly $12.6 million.
It will accommodate occupational therapy, physical therapy, kinesiology and sports sciences, and sports medicine programs. It will also house offices for administration, basketball coaches, volleyball coaches, and will include a 7,500-square foot weight room.
And so, within three years, USD will be able to boast some of the region’s best athletic and academic facilities, Herbster said.
“Now we have something to work toward,” he said.