VERMILLION — As David Herbster sat and looked out over the construction site inside the DakotaDome, he couldn’t help but think about two things.
The past and the future.
“It’s a different-looking campus than it was in 2007 when I got here,” the University of South Dakota athletic director said during an interview Thursday afternoon from the club area overlooking the DakotaDome.
He’s got a point.
The renovations to the west side of the 40-year-old DakotaDome are another in a long list of facility projects that USD has undertaken in the past decade.
Among them: A basketball/volleyball arena, an outdoor track complex, a new turfed soccer complex and an outdoor football practice field. And that’s not even including the new academic buildings.
“The campus has grown up,” Herbster said. “The facilities are starting to match our position as a flagship university and a Division I school.”
Interior work inside the DakotaDome marks the second phase of a $26.3 million project: First was a $2.1 million football practice field (which is complete) and now comes the $24.2 million construction on the dome’s west end.
Work began inside the dome in February and the project is expected to take 18 months, and the goal is to have everything ready for the 2020 football season.
The project is essentially broken down into four tiers:
* The bottom level will feature football locker rooms, team meeting spaces, lounge areas and office space
* The level above that will feature 10 suites, 15 loge boxes, all with premium seating
* The third level would be the concourse level, with permanent seating, restrooms, concessions, a full-sized kitchen and two entrances
* The fourth level would house football coaches offices and meeting rooms for the team
Of course, with such a project comes headaches.
Construction work beginning in February meant USD’s track and field teams were limited in their indoor practices.
Perhaps the most noticeable effect of the renovations will come this fall when USD’s six home football games will be played in front of a significantly smaller fan base. The student sections and band section will be moved to the east end, which means the DakotaDome seating capacity during the 2019 season will be 5,500.
“When you’re renovating a place you’re living in, it’s going to be uncomfortable,” Herbster said.
Due to the construction work, the South Dakota High School Activities Association also moved away its seven state football championship games to Brookings this November.
In USD’s case, though, it was able to ensure that none of its 2019 home games were moved from the DakotaDome, and Herbster said the hope is that fans sitting on the east end will be able to follow along with the construction progress.
“When you can sit in your seat and look over and see progress, you can see the future,” he added.
To help aid in the inconveniences of certain teams being misplaced during the construction, USD leased a building along the Highway 50 bypass, Herbster said.
That facility houses softball batting cages, chipping and putting areas for golf, dry land equipment for diving, a throws cage for track, a 30-yard roll of turf and storage.
“It’s certainly not ideal, but we’ve been able to lessen the pain how we can,” Herbster said.
Once the west side of the DakotaDome is complete, USD’s football seating capacity will eclipse 9,000, according to Herbster.
There would be room to increase the seating capacity in the future, Herbster added, but he said USD would prefer not to overbuild right out of the gate.
“This will give us an even more intimate environment and hopefully a loud one,” Herbster said. “We want this to be something special.”
In Herbster’s eyes, he said the renovation project is essentially the completion of the dome, even after four decades.
The original idea, he said, was to have identical seating on both sides, but that didn’t materialize. And what was left were ways to utilize the west side.
Eight years ago, USD opened a new wellness center east of the dome, which gave students and campus intramural sports a place of their own. But in order to lessen the burdens of practices and space availability on its programs, USD had to first construct the Sanford Coyote Sports Center.
Now, all these years later, USD could finally tackle the dome renovation project, Herbster said.
The process began with questions about what the space on the west side could be used for, and USD ultimately wanted to maximize possible revenue while enhancing the fan experience and providing the football program with modern amenities.
“In (former president) Jim Abbott’s last year, he really wanted to make this happen, so he really pushed this through,” Herbster said.
As he watched the construction progress on Thursday afternoon, Herbster said he remains hopeful that the upgrades to the DakotaDome prove to be successful.
“We want to help sure that the dome is a premier facility in the region,” he said.
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