VERMILLION, S.D. -- Since the DakotaDome was built 40 years ago, almost everything athletically at the University of South Dakota has centered on the iconic structure on campus.
Over the last decade, USD has made some improvements athletically around the DakotaDome.
First there was the Wellness Center, which is a few blocks from the DakotaDome.
Then USD built the Sanford Coyote Sports Center, which is attached to the DakotaDome and allowed the men's and women's basketball teams along with the volleyball team to have a new home.
At the same time, USD constructed the First Bank & Trust Soccer Complex for the women's soccer team and created the first outdoor track and field facility on campus (the Lillibridge Track Complex) since 1979.
Recently, USD built an outdoor football practice facility just north of the DakotaDome.
Now it's the dome's turn for some upgrades.
A $24.2 million project has taken over the entire west end of the DakotaDome. Work began in February, and the construction includes adding permanent seating on the west side of the building along with suites and loge boxes, a separate floor to house football coaches offices and meeting rooms for the team and a bottom level that will house the football locker room, meeting spaces, lounge areas and office space.
The project is scheduled to take around 18 months, and the goal is to have the project completed in time for the 2020 football season.
USD athletic director David Herbster said it has been a lengthy process so far but he's pleased with how things are going.
"It's been a long time, especially when you start with the staging of the area on the west end and the demolition. Now things are starting to come up out of the ground," Herbster said. "I like where we are at and like any construction or renovation project, you wish you were further along than what you really were but I feel good about where we are going with it and how it's getting put together."
University of South Dakota football coach Bob Nielson has enjoyed watching his players develop throughout the summer.
That's what has Herbster excited. After months of staging and demolition, the fruits of the labor are starting to show. The raker beams to hold the permanent seating are all in and some of the sections that will hold the permanent seating have been put into place.
"The skeleton went up and now the skin is going up with the plates where the seats are going to sit," Herbster said. "Now you can see the definition of where the suites and loges are going to go. It's really starting to pop."
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The construction will have an effect on the 2019 USD home football schedule since work isn't scheduled to be complete until 2020.
The USD student section and the USD band sat in the former seating on the west side. Those sections will be relocated to the east end, encroaching on the permanent fan seating.
The DakotaDome capacity for the 2019 season with be 5,500, down from the listed capacity of 10,000. The student section dips from 1,800 on the west end to 750 spots on the east end this season.
But it's only for one season, and Herbster said the new west end makes it a worthy inconvenience.
"You are going to be staring at what the future is when you are sitting on the east side," Herbster said. "I've tried to tell people and encourage people, don't be so concerned about the seats in the Dome. Just make sure you have the opportunity to be one of those people that gets a chance to be in the Dome."
This year only, the South Dakota High School Activities Association moved the seven state title games from the DakotaDome to Brookings, home of South Dakota State, because of the construction.
When the project on the west end is completed, there will be more than 9,000 seats.
"We have the ability to make the place an intimidating environment," Herbster said. "Fans have been surprised about some of the indoor facilities that we have been at with how loud they can be. The Dome can be just as loud."
When this project concludes in 2020, it won't mark the end of a run of construction for USD athletics. Herbster already has his next project in mind.
"The next plan is really looking at expanding the Wellness Center and moving the pool to the Wellness Center," Herbster said. "If we can move the pool to the Wellness Center, then we've got issues to reconfigure where the pool sits on the east side (of the DakotaDome). We would have the ability to renovate it to make it so the Dome is functional on both sides.
Le Mars football coach Gabe Tardive drives by the ongoing construction at Le Mars Community Stadium almost daily. Gehlen Catholic football coa…
"We are never totally done. There are always going to be something that we are going to look to find to improve."
This will be Herbster's 13th season of football at USD and he joined the athletic department as an associate athletic director. He's served as USD's A.D. since April of 2013.
So he's seen USD's campus transform since he moved to Vermillion -- from the improvements to the athletic facilities to the Lee Medicine & Science Building, the Muenster University Student Center, the Beacom School of Business and Coyote Village.
"It's amazing and that's what I've appreciated so much about being here and feel fortunate about my time here, to see such changes on campus, let alone the athletic facilities," Herbster said. "It really has been transformational. A lot has changed and it's been for the better."