FARGO — Pieces of history that traces its roots to Fenway Park in Boston, one by one, are leaving the North Dakota State track and field athletic complex this spring. If only those old bleachers could talk.
To most veteran Bison football fans, they’ll be remembered as the south stands at Dacotah Field, wooden boards that made a loud stomping sound when fans jumped on them. Boards that were part of a Division II football dynasty, especially in the 1980s into 1990 when NDSU won five NCAA national championships.
Boards that finally gave in to time and nature.
“To think of all the games that people have seen on those stands, it’s sad to see it go,” said Scott Woken, senior associate athletic director at NDSU. “But they needed to go.”
The bleacher removal is making way for a two-phase renovation to the Ellig Sports Complex and Schlanser Track. Phase 1 in the $5 million project is the track itself, which is being moved 30 feet to the east and will include three pole vault runways and two triple jump and long jump runways.
The shot put, discus and javelin throws will be moved to the grass infield of the track with that section targeted for a September or October completion date. Phase 2, a 3,500-seat grandstand on the west side with a press box, is slated for completion about a year from now.
So long old, nostalgic pieces to Dacotah Field.
Dacotah is only part of the history. They originally came from Fenway Park courtesy of the New England Patriots, dismantled and loaded on a train and shipped to Fargo.
The Patriots moved to their stadium in Foxboro, Mass., in 1971 and Woken surmises those bleachers became available. The Patriots played at Fenway from 1963-68, in which there is a photo on the website stadiumsofprofootball.com that gives a possible idea what they looked like.
“And who knows how long they had them,” Woken said.
The North Dakota Army National Guard dismantled the old Dacotah Field stands and reassembled them at Ellig, splitting them on the east and west sides. The upper section of old Dacotah was put on the east side and the lower section on the west side, with the lower end not really conducive to seating but more about having enough space for thousands of metal chairs.
“My old stomping grounds, Fenway Park,” said NDSU deputy athletic director Todd Phelps. “They had seen better times. It was to the point where we had to do some serious refurbishing to them in the steel and wood areas. As we designed this out and looked at the track layout, all of the jumps were going to be on the east side and we’ll have standing room areas (for fans) over there. Once we got to that point, we have the money, let’s demolish this and build a grandstand that is more suitable for the facility.”
The Ellig track facility was finished in 1997 at a cost of $2.3 million and the surface has aged. This project, designed by Mutchler Bartram Architects of Fargo, has three main contractors: Rick Electric Inc. in Moorhead for the electrical work, Veit & Company Inc. out of Rogers, Minn., for the general contractor work and Hellas Sports Construction from Austin, Texas, for the actual track.
Hellas specializes in facilities like this. The portfolio on its website lists 1,635 track projects alone. The company did work at Dallas Cowboys’ The Star in Frisco, with NDSU administrators getting a tour of it from Hellas representatives when the Bison were in Frisco, Texas, for a Division I FCS national title game.
Phelps said about $500,000 still needs to be raised before both phases can be completed. The plan is to be done by the time NDSU is scheduled to host the 2022 Summit League Outdoor Track & Field Championships.