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State board gives unanimous approval for NDSU to proceed with indoor football facility

The indoor football facility will have plenty of height for a punter.1 / 2
The proposed indoor football facility looking from the east on University Drive North.2 / 2

FARGO—Chris Klieman has visited several Power Five conference football schools during his tenure as the head football coach for North Dakota State University, and in almost every instance, one amenity stood out: indoor practice facilities.

These facilities are starting to filter down to the Division I FCS level. And after the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education gave its unanimous authorization for NDSU to begin fundraising for the $37.2 million project on Wednesday at its meeting in Bismarck, the school is on track to getting one of its own.

It still has to go to the North Dakota Legislature for approval. If successful and the necessary funds are raised, NDSU would need to return to the board for authorization to proceed. About the only point of difference was the timing of completion.

Rick Tonder, the director of facilities planning for the North Dakota University System, said he figured it would take NDSU five to six years to raise the funds.

"I think Rick was probably relatively conservative on the time frame it might take them to generate revenue," said Board Vice Chair Greg Stemen. "Sometimes timing is everything, and there seems to be some support for that team over in the Fargo area."

Said Board member Kevin Melicher: "A lot of these projects are helped and generated by the foundations of these universities. Without them, we would have a very difficult time making those universities grow, so we owe them a debt of gratitude to fund these projects."

NDSU released conceptual drawings of the facility, and they show large garage-type doors that will allow the facility to be mostly open so it can work in conjunction with another outdoor practice field. Site plans show the three current fields being reduced to two, with the outdoor one being lighted.

"It's kind of the last missing piece for us here at North Dakota State from a football standpoint," Klieman said.

NDSU plays its home games at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome, where its locker room recently received an upgrade. It trains in the new Sanford Health Athletic Complex and the practice fields are a three-field setup south of the SHAC. The current indoor facility in the winter months is a bubble over Dacotah Field, but it's removed from spring to late fall because it is the home soccer facility for the Bison.

Moreover, the bubble was meant to be a 10-year stopgap fix until a permanent facility could be built. There is still one step remaining in the approval process, and that is for the North Dakota Legislature to give its OK, but projects that are entirely privately funded like this one usually have no problem getting through.

That was the case with the University of North Dakota's High Performance Center, which opened in 2015. South Dakota State and Youngstown State of the Missouri Valley Football Conference also have indoor practice space for football.

"It would be phenomenal in recruiting, as far as us being able to show where we practice all year around," Klieman said. "It's kind of an arms race now with, from the standpoint of all of the facilities, weight rooms and locker rooms. We hit a home run with all of those except the indoor facility, and we need to put our best foot forward."

Bison punters would like a new facility—a normal punt usually hits the ceiling in the bubble. Typical indoor practice buildings are about 50 feet tall; this project is slated to be 70 feet in clearance over the field. In comparison, the height of the SHAC from the basketball floor to the underside of the steel structure is around 37 feet.

Plus, there are amenities the bubble doesn't offer like the ability to fully film practices and to prepare for games using piped-in noise. The Fargodome is considered one of the noisiest home fields in the country, with the loudest roars when the opposing team has the ball. It means the Bison defense also needs to work on communication.

"If we're playing at home in September, we're outside every day except Thursday," Klieman said. "The biggest reason to go inside is to get the noise factor."

And, ultimately, it's something the players can use all year-around no matter the weather conditions.

"There's just so much more space," Klieman said.

Klieman noted the multi-use nature of it, saying in the offseason football can be on one end and another sport on the other. Or, in the case of golf, it will be big enough to hit full 100-yard wedge shots or hit a driver into a netted wall.

Softball may not need it. The state board also gave approval for NDSU to go ahead with a formal fundraising campaign for a $2 million indoor softball hitting facility at Ellig Sports Complex. The need will arise, according to NDSU's project description, because the sharing of space with the football practice facility would not be feasible.

It would be located immediately north of the softball stadium and comprise about 11,000 square feet. The building would include separate team meeting rooms, storage, offices and men's and women's restrooms.

Jeff Kolpack

Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.

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