University of Mary officials released architectural renderings of its new athletic complex on Monday.
The next step? Bringing it to life.
The nearly $90 million project, which includes a total makeover of the east side of the campus, would bring football, baseball, soccer and outdoor track competitions back to campus.
Significant fundraising remains. Shovels can go in the dirt when around half of the total cost has been raised. Executive Vice President Jerome Richter, tasked with the heavy lifting of raising the funds, is hopeful some earth work could begin next summer, with the fall of 2023 the target to begin building in earnest.
“To be able to pull the trigger, we need to have money identified,” said Richter. “A lot of things have come together at the same time. The timing has converged and we don’t want to wait around.
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“People believe in what we’re doing. People believe in Christian education.”
With new facilities popping up all over the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, keeping up is key to competing in a difficult NCAA Division II league.
“It provides some of the missing pieces that all of our coaches are searching for as we’re kind of an outlier to the NSIC,” Interim Director of Athletics and head hockey coach Dan Huntley said. “What that means is, there are obstacles to overcome. Our facilities are one of those things. We play at great facilities in town, but to be able to bring those events back out to campus is very important in so many ways.
“Staying on campus is the true essence of the collegiate experience.”
When work does begin, the project would take at least three years to complete. Current playing fields will need to be moved. So will roads that lead into campus off Highway 1804.
“The amount of dirt and earth that is going to be moved is staggering,” Richter said. “It’s a heavy duty project in every way, but we’re extremely committed to seeing it through the right way.”
The impact the new facilities will have on the programs most affected cannot be understated.
“College athletics have changed even from my time,” said head football coach Craig Bagnell, who also played for the Marauders. “Academically, we’re one of the top schools in the Midwest. But when you get to facilities in recruiting, it is a wow factor. With the new facilities, we’re not gonna hear, ‘Oh, well you don’t have this, you don’t have that.’
“They’re not going to be able to hold that over us anymore.”
The football field, which will hold approximately 2,500 fans in the main grandstand, will transform into a year-round facility when the air dome is inflated overhead.
That piece will serve spring sports particularly well in years when April unleashes a blizzard, like this past year, or when winter hits early like on Monday.
“The indoor component factor is huge from a baseball standpoint,” said Marauders baseball coach Tanner Spencer, who saw it firsthand as an assistant coach at Minot State where the Beavers have a bubble facility. “When you roll out in Oklahoma, Texas or Florida and all of the sudden you’re playing real baseball but you haven’t seen a fly ball for six months, it’s just different. This type of facility is a gamechanger.”
Softball coach Dre Frantz certainly can relate, as well as keeping up with their competitors.
“We’ve been lucky to have our sport on campus, but this type of facility just has so many benefits,” said Frantz, a former Marauders’ softball player. “Augustana just built a new field. Keeping pace with your competitors is important. Our campus now is beautiful and this will only add to it.”
Cale Korbelik, head track and field coach, envisions a time where the NSIC Championships come to Bismarck, wrestling it away from the likes of MSU-Mankato.
“Hosting our own meets will be huge. Same with being able to have camps and clinics on campus, that just exposes what we have to offer to more athletes,” Korbelik said. “We do a great job with academics. We do a great job with scholarships. I don’t want to say this is the last piece because we’re always striving to do more, but this is a big, big deal.”
By releasing what the new facilities will look like, head cross country coach Chris Lessard said they can put that in front of potential recruits.
“It is about action and not just words. Are you are who you say you are? By doing this, we’re showing we care about athletes being able to further their careers and goals,” he said. “They want to see advancement and progress. We’re not just expanding athletics, we’re expanding everything.”
For Richter, that is the point entirely.
“This is about the University of Mary. Yes, it’s an athletic complex and it’s really important. That’s why we’re doing it. But more broadly it’s about the entire campus as a whole,” he said. “Who’s this going to help? Everyone.”
Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at 701 250-8246 or email@example.com