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Jeff Kolpack, Published October 11 2013

Bison Sports Arena renovation takes major step forward with guaranteed funding

FARGO – Although the shovel isn’t in the ground for the renovation of the Bison Sports Arena, the North Dakota State athletic department can see it from here. The school’s Development Foundation announced Friday it will guarantee funding for the Sanford Health Athletic Complex so it can proceed to the construction phase pending two state approvals.

The foundation voted unanimously that it will back the project to $41 million. But because bids came in higher than the estimated $35.4 million that was originally approved by the North Dakota legislature, the school first has to go back to the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education for approval and return to the legislature for another approval.

Because it is a privately funded project, both steps are not expected to be met with much resistance.

The athletic department has already raised about $35 million, but the foundation’s assurance had athletic director Gene Taylor on Friday feeling like the project “is going to happen.”

“It becomes more real,” he said.

If approvals go as hoped, it appears the earliest construction could start would be March or April, depending on the winter weather, Taylor said.

The school opened bids last month, with the main expenditure being the Scheels Center basketball arena. The project got a boost on Thursday when the Ingstad family from Fargo gave $1.2 million, which Taylor said seemed to give the foundation confidence that fundraising was still going strong.

The Development Foundation handles all of the funds for the project. The first phase, the $5 million Shelly Ellig Indoor Track and Field Complex, opened last year.

A renovated arena has been talked about for a decade when plans first surfaced to try and update what once was called the New Fieldhouse, which opened in 1971. Fundraising did not begin in earnest, however, until Sanford Health donated $10 million in 2010.

The Scheels Center seating will have a capacity of 5,700, with the bonus for the men’s and women’s basketball programs a two-court practice facility that will be built on the southwest corner of the building. The strength and conditioning and sports medicine areas will be configured on the west side, mostly in an area that once was an indoor pool.

“The Development Foundation’s enthusiasm for the project was made clear by their unanimous guarantee of support for the full amount,” said NDSU President Dean Bresciani in a university statement. “I share their enthusiasm and appreciate their support for a project of such importance to NDSU and the region.”

Taylor said talks with the Development Foundation started when it appeared the athletic department was close to its fundraising goal. But after bids came back higher than estimated, he said the department had to “regroup” on the best way to move forward.

The foundation answered that question.

“With homecoming coming up, now is the right time,” Taylor said, referring to NDSU’s homecoming this weekend. “They finally agreed now is the time.”

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