Sarah Westerman, a sprinter and long jumper, stands in front of the machines at the new track field. Photo by Katelyn Clement.

As construction equipment arrives to break ground on the new Larson Track & Field Complex, tracksters will finally have a place to call home.

But with seasonal dome blueprints abandoned for the foreseeable future, the track will only keep runners warm for about four months every year.

Last spring, Augustana University released plans to build its first home track facility since the 1970s, set to include field turf with a 300-meter indoor track covered by a “bubble” seasonal dome while a 400-meter track was paved along the outside edges. Without enough money to cover the $6 million price tag, Augustana revised its plans twice before preparing to break ground in early November on a single, 300-meter outdoor track.

Several track athletes have expressed anger over the change in plans and miscommunication to both athletic and academic administrators, but with no response.

“We have no space to grow or get better,” junior sprinter Sarah Westerman said. “We had created this whole indoor facility, and then [the University] just scrapped it.”

As of this article’s publication on December 8, construction had not yet started.

President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Blueprints: What will the track look like?

The new track will include two phases of construction, similar to the spring plans.

According to Augustana University, phase one would have originally built an eight-lane, 300-meter track with expanded space for field events, artificial turf, new start/finish line technology and portable fan seating at a final cost of $4 million. The new phase one plans scrap the new technology and seating, saving the university $2 million on phase one.

On the Augustana University website, the initial phase two plans included a price tag of $2 million. While this portion of the plan remains unchanged, athletic director Josh Morton said that now, the 86-foot-high seasonal dome surrounded by a three-lane, 400-meter outdoor track would cost $4 million—a $2 million increase from what the student body was originally told.

Currently, the completion date for phase one is set for August of 2019. There is no definitive completion timeline for phase two, but Morton said the university could still be searching for donors in three-five years.

“For us, it came back to ‘what can we do today for our student-athletes?’” Morton said. “Instead of waiting…to try and get to the point of an additional $4 million, we just decided to get something done right away.”

In an interview with GoAugie, the official Augustana athletics website, Morton said football, soccer, baseball and softball programs would benefit from the new facility, primarily when the artificial turf and seasonal dome are added.

Baseball head coach Tim Huber said that while other athletic teams, like baseball, had originally planned to use the new track, the facility is useless for his team without the dome.

“When the weather’s warm enough, we can move the snow from our [baseball] turf and do the same thing on our infield that we would do on an outdoor [track] surface,” Huber said. “We won’t be able to use it. I suppose we could, but it won’t serve any purpose.”

(Click on gallery to enlarge photos and view captions.)

Disconnect: Athletes upset with miscommunication

During the recruitment process, Westerman was promised that Augustana would have an indoor track built by her sophomore season.

Now a junior, Westerman said she’s angry the athletics department broke its original promise and sugar-coated the downgrade in facilities.

“[Augustana] didn’t address the needs of the track and field program,” Westerman said. “We are in South Dakota, so we only participate outdoor for so long. We need an indoor facility.”

Currently, the track and field team practices in a myriad of places, depending on the weather.

During the summer and early fall months, they move between practices at Lincoln High School, O’Gorman High School and Howard Wood Field. In the winter and spring, the team is confined to the 160-meter track in the Elmen gym.

Westerman said that the Elmen ceiling leaks, creating a slippery track and a dangerous running environment for sprinters on the tight curves. The surface also doesn’t allow for deceleration, which causes additional problems.

In addition, Westerman said the outdoor track will not be regulation size, as outdoor track season uses a 400-meter—not 300-meter—track length.

“Any team can deal with inconveniences,” Westerman said. “But when there are this many inconveniences on top of each other, it makes it less desirable to compete at a place like Augustana. I think recruits see that when they come here, too.”

According to sophomore sprinter and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee representative Sydney Mudgett, the track and field team has last priority in using the gym behind basketball, baseball and football, making their practice times and location switch on a daily basis. The new track will not change the fight for priority in the Elmen, according to teammate Westerman.

Mudgett also said she is upset with Morton and Herseth Sandlin for not involving athletes in the plans to change the track complex layout.

“You would think the athletic director would make it a priority to talk to the athletes,” Mudgett said. “The same for the president. [Herseth Sandlin] does have a lot of say in this, and she was kind of thrown into it, but there was nothing said from her side—which is very frustrating.”

Overall Impact

While the Larson Track & Field Complex will not serve runners during winter months, it will create a permanent home during the outdoor season.

“We’ve kind of patched [practice locations] together in the past,” assistant track coach Scott Tanis said, referencing the team’s practices at local high schools and Howard Wood Field. “It’s somewhere different every day.”

In addition, Morton said the new outdoor field will save time and provide a safer option for tracksters than driving across Sioux Falls to practice each day.

“I see them piling into cars to go somewhere to train because we don’t have an on-campus home,” Morton said. “Imagine the time that it [will] save them––homework, studying, meals, getting to the commons on time to eat––all those things of the student-athlete experience. I’m excited for it.”

While the dome may not be built in the foreseeable future, both Mudgett and Westerman said they see potential for the new track.

“Having the bulldozer here reminds people that there is a track team and that we’re actually doing cool things on campus,” Westerman said. “If anything, it provides a landmark of what will come in the future.”

No seasonal dome makes new track useless for baseball team

Plans made last spring for the Larson Track & Field Complex included a seasonal dome, which would have created an indoor practice space for all athletes on campus, especially during winter months.

However, a recent change in blueprints resulted in a change of plans.

Without an 86-foot-high seasonal dome to cover the artificial turf inside the 300-meter track, athletic teams including baseball, softball, football and soccer no longer plan to use the track during winter months.

“The Larson Track & Field is such a needed addition on our campus,” head baseball coach Tim Huber said in an interview with Augustana University earlier this spring before the blueprints were revised. “With a climate like we have here in the midwest, having large, indoor, open space available is priceless. This facility will be game-changing for so many people.”

While an indoor baseball and softball complex is currently being designed, Huber said he had planned to host practices on the track turf until the baseball complex’s construction.

Huber said he was disappointed to learn that the seasonal dome would not be installed until donor funds are secured. He said, until then, the facility is useless to the baseball team.

“It was definitely disappointing,” Huber said. “We could have used that indoor turf field space for so many things.”

Augustana athletic director Josh Morton said there is no estimated completion date or timeline set for securing donor funds and constructing the seasonal dome.

Currently, the soccer, football, baseball and softball teams practice at the Sanford Fieldhouse during the winter. Each team pays a discounted long-term tenant rate of $82.50 per hour to rent the space, according to Sanford Sports Complex facility manager Brock Reynoldson.

During winter months, the baseball team practices at the Sanford Fieldhouse every weekday. In the fall, the team cuts fieldhouse use to three days per week, using it solely for workouts.

In addition, during team recruitment this past fall, baseball players like freshman Seth Miller were promised a new indoor facility on-campus.

Miller, a pitcher on the team, said coaches told him the track complex would be ready for practice by the fall of his sophomore year.

“They’re [still] going to build it by fall of [my] sophomore year,” Miller said. “It’s just not going to be indoor. We can’t really use it anymore.”