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Jeff Kolpack, Published December 11 2013

Bison Sports Arena renovation gets final approval after years of discussions, battles

FARGO – After several years, countless meetings and fundraising quests, the North Dakota State basketball and wrestling programs finally got the news they’ve been waiting to hear for years: The Bison Sports Arena renovation is 100 percent approved.

The unanimous vote from the budget section of the North Dakota Legislature on Wednesday morning will allow construction to begin for the Sanford Health Athletic Complex. That approval was needed because the cost of the project at $41 million exceeded the earlier $35.4 million approval of the legislature.

“It’s been 10 years since we’ve been talking about it,” said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor, who made a presentation in front of the committee in Bismarck.

The main cog of the renovation – the 5,700-seat Scheels Center – is expected to move NDSU to more of a Division I-type arena. The BSA opened in 1971.

“The place is literally crumbling around us,” said men’s basketball coach Saul Phillips.

NDSU obtained the approval of the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education last month. Taylor said the budget section members on Tuesday passed it without even asking a question.

“It was very routine,” he said.

The next step is to sign contracts with various contractors who were awarded bids on the project. It’s uncertain when construction will start, but Taylor said generally when the winter weather breaks.

The biggest decision in the near future has to do with the construction timeline. Taylor said if the entire athletic department vacates the building and moves somewhere else, construction can be cut from three years to two years.

The previous plan was for construction to work around various departments and offices. The biggest challenge, Taylor said, will be to find practice space for the basketball and wrestling programs.

It appears game venues for basketball for those two years will be comprised of a mixture of the Fargodome, Scheels Arena in south Fargo and NDSU’s Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse, which is the home volleyball venue.

Hassle aside, the news on Wednesday was a victory for the coaches.

“I think we did a good job of selling NDSU athletics, the community, the fan base and did everything to promote the bigger picture than just the facilities,” said women’s head basketball coach Carolyn DeHoff. “Now we can just bring them here. It takes care of itself.”

The renovation includes a separate basketball practice facility, a new weight training room and new sports medicine facilities. No longer do coaches have to speculate on a new arena to recruits.

“It’s been a lot of hurdles to clear, and the bottom line is a $41 million project with privately raised funds is tough to get done at any time,” Phillips said. “A lot of people stuck with it during a very frustrating and long process.”

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