By Bryan Boettcher
The first phase of improvements to the DakotaDome is underway.
A revamped west side is the target of an estimated $26 million renovation that began in mid-February and will continue right up to the start of the 2020 Coyote football season. The result will include two additional entrances to the facility, new locker rooms and coaching opportunities for Coyote football, and suites and loge boxes that will offer a view of the action unlike any other.
Construction has been nearly continuous since February and for good reason. South Dakota hosts Montana to begin the 2019 season on Aug. 31, and control of the playing area must be returned to USD ahead of that date so the turf can be laid and the facility readied by kickoff.
"Few facilities like the Dome have such a huge impact on so many sports, and to take away some of their optimal training and practice situations and expect them to still compete at a very high level is pretty remarkable for them to be able to do that." - Corey Jenkins, USD's senior associate athletic director for facilities and operations
The Coyotes host six football games in 2019 including the annual Dakota Days game on Oct. 5. Seating will be restricted to the east side, which brings the capacity down to 5,500. Corey Jenkins, USD’s senior associate athletic director for facilities and operations, is overseeing all of the moving parts.
“During the 2019 football season, fans will get a great sense of what the future will look like on the west side,” said Jenkins. “All of the precast will be installed, which will serve as a blank canvas for future seats, the suites and loge boxes.
“Work will continue during the season. Much of it will be centered around the 200 and 300 levels, which include the concourse where restrooms and concessions will be featured, and the premium seating areas. If you come to the first football game of the season, and then the last game just before Thanksgiving, you will certainly notice some changes.”
Demolition has consumed much of the first months of the renovation. The west side has been stripped down to the exterior walls and support columns, and only the floor where the old volleyball court, weight room and batting cages existed remains. The largest items removed were the bleachers and the stairwells at the end of each side.
“The actual surface where the volleyball court was will be coated over with kind of a liquid concrete solution,” said Jenkins. “But on that level, that floor stays and will be the future concourse level, the 300 level.”
In May, concrete was poured for footings and foundations, precast columns began to be installed and masonry work began on new sets of stairs and elevator shafts. Next, walls will continue to be built for the 100 level, the bottom floor, which will include the new football locker room, lounge, storage space and the shell space for the future training room and future equipment room.
More heavy lifting is set to begin immediately following the 2019 football season. That is when cranes and lifts will be able to reenter the facility and seating can be installed. The good news is that weather will have a minimal effect on the timeline with the vast majority of the work taking place inside the Dome. That said, some of the groundwork in preparation for two new entrances is taking place this summer and into the fall before the weather turns.
“What impresses me the most about this project is the sheer amount of moving parts it takes to be able to cut our Dome in half and make this happen,” said Jenkins. “The level of flexibility, the concessions and challenges that all of our programs face in allowing us to do this is truly remarkable. Few facilities like the Dome have such a huge impact on so many sports and to take away some of their optimal training and practice situations and expect them to still compete at a very high level is pretty remarkable for them to be able to do that.”
Of course, the hope is that all these concessions will pay off for Coyote teams in the long run. In addition to upgrades for football, future phases of improvements to the DakotaDome include new or improved locker rooms and office elements for all sports. A new playing surface for both football and track and field have been cited, as have modern concourse and fan amenities on the east side of the facility.