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Jeff Kolpack, Published May 15 2012

Fundraising for Bison Sports Arena renovation hits $30 million

Fargo - The gap is closing on fundraising for the renovation of the Bison Sports Arena, and it appears North Dakota State is closer than ever to making the project a reality.

NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor said $30 million of the fundraising campaign’s $32 million has been raised, a figure that is up considerably from previous figures. It was at $20 million last September.

Taylor, in a videotaping of the Bison Media Blog that is set to air today on http://bisonmedia.areavoices.com, said it’s possible groundbreaking could happen this fall. More than $32 million will be needed to cover some additional costs like financing, but it appears that will not be a hurdle, Taylor said.

“Our goal is to see where we’re at on July 1,” Taylor said. “Then we can start the processes of approval with the state Board of Higher Education and the state legislators so we can get everything ready to put out to bid sometime this fall. We would at least like to get the bids in place.”

Construction on the first phase of the project, the Shelly Ellig Indoor Track and Field Facility, is in full throttle on the south side of Dacotah Field, now the NDSU football Sprinturf practice field.

The fundraising momentum started in 2010 with a $10 million gift from Sanford Health. The entire facility will be called the Sanford Health Athletic Complex.

Taylor said other donors have been identified and the hope is to make some headway with those in the next few months.

“We have several donors on our list we feel will help us move the needle significantly,” Taylor said.

The Scheels family, owners of Scheels All Sports chain of sporting good stores, obtained the naming rights to the arena – Scheels Center – with a $5 million donation.

“I never doubted if it was going to happen,” said NDSU men’s basketball coach Saul Phillips. “Sometimes I wondered when it was going to happen. Yeah, it’s going to happen.”

The arena project is considered to be the last big piece to get the school on par with Division I contemporaries. The BSA opened in 1972 and is considered vastly outdated compared to many mid-major Division I basketball programs.

“We need this to continue to grow as a program,” Phillips said. “The people with their support are overwhelming as a coach.

“It’s absolutely unbelievable if you look around the country at the things people are going through economically that NDSU is able to raise $30 million at this time. It shows the support we get from the community.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia