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'Next logical piece:' Hanson football, track and field complex nears first use after $4 million upgrade

The project included a new eight-lane all-weather track, new turf field surface, new lighting, 350-seat grandstand addition, press box expansion and more.

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Shown here is an aerial view, looking northwest toward the grandstand and adjacent baseball field, of Hanson's recently upgraded football and track and field facility. The project is nearing completion at a cost of approximately $4.1 million.
Submitted photo from the Hanson School District
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ALEXANDRIA, S.D. — As the calendar flips from August to September, the final countdown has started toward Hanson hosting the first sporting event at its upgraded football and track and field complex.

This spring and summer, a project totaling approximately $4.1 million has transformed the facility into a place almost unrecognizable compared to its predecessor. Gone are the crowned grass field and crumbling asphalt track, replaced with a turf playing surface — emblazoned with a block letter 'H' at the 50-yard line and endzones that proudly display 'HANSON' in the north and 'BEAVERS' in the south — and eight-lane all-weather rubberized track and complimented by expansions to the stadium’s seating and press box, as well as new LED lighting.

“With all our facilities, this was the next logical piece to our school district that we needed,” said Hanson superintendent and athletic director Jim Bridge. “... Our school board and community just said, ‘Hey, it’s time.’

“This is a big deal. To be a small school in our area and have this type of facility is exceptional,” Bridge continued. “We’re not trying to sound like we’re bragging, but when you have something that you’ve never had before, you look back and think, ‘Wow, how did we get by without it?’”

However, arriving at the final plan wasn’t quite that simple.

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Shown here is an aerial view, looking southeast, of Hanson's recently upgraded football and track and field facility. The project is nearing completion at a cost of approximately $4.1 million.
Submitted photo from the Hanson School District

Everything, all at once

Ideas had been floated at various prior times, but Bridge says the project as it's seen today was set in motion in the summer of 2021, shortly after the Beavers’ boys track and field team captured a Class B state championship. With that success and a blossoming number of athletes in the Hanson track and field programs, a new track was becoming an increasingly higher priority.

It also proved to set off a chain reaction that led to the large-scale construction project, which was taken on by the same companies that completed the Wagner football field and track upgrades last year.

Measured in yards and without the modern rubberized surface, not only was Hanson’s old track unable to host events, it wasn’t quite the same shape as a normal track, having shorter straightaways and larger, sweeping corners. This meant that to install a new track, the football field’s location would have to be shifted to keep it centered in the infield. Such a shift to Hanson’s grass field, which had a significant crown to aid drainage, would have meant an off-center crown and tricky goalpost placement with one side of the field higher than the other.

One option was to re-crown the field at its new location in 2023, but two significant factors made it an undesirable choice. First, Warner (another school that opted to add artificial turf to its field in 2022) had looked into re-crowning its field at around the same time, which came with a price tag of more than $300,000. Second, waiting a year wouldn’t only force the Hanson football team to play with odd field conditions for a season, but it would have meant heavy machinery rolling on and over the new track during the process.

So the decision was made to upgrade both the track and the field (and surrounding facilities) in a single go, made possible by prudent financial planning by the Hanson School District previously. Despite a price tag of more than $4 million, the project didn't necessitate the raising of taxes.

Instead, the cost of the project, which was supplemented by private donors, was covered in the existing framework of the school district's capital outlay budget. According to Bridge, the new project payments essentially took the place of payments the Hanson School District had been making on its gymnasium, which was built in the early 2000s and paid off last year, two years ahead of schedule.

In addition to the immediately recognizable changes to the track and field surfaces, other elements — including the ticket booth and tailgate area, on-field play clocks and large storage shed on the north end — were tacked on to round out the project and funded by private donations.

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“There have been a lot of little things we needed that got added on to the project because of an outpouring of support from the community,” Bridge said.

Additionally, a new press box section has been constructed and 350 seats will be added to the south end of the grandstand, though that might not be completed prior to the first home game.

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Shown here is an aerial view, looking northwest, of the ticket booth and tailgating area (bottom left) and parking lot at Hanson's recently upgraded football and track and field facility. The project is nearing completion at a cost of approximately $4.1 million.
Submitted photo from the Hanson School District

An exciting future

The Beavers have had an antagonizing wait to properly show off the new facility. To compensate for any potential delays, Hanson worked with the South Dakota High School Activities Association to create a schedule in which the first three games of the season were on the road. On Sept. 9, that wait comes to an end against Parkston, as the Beavers prepare to play four of their final five regular-season games at home.

On the track and field front, the wait to host an event has been much longer — Bridge estimates that the old track prevented Hanson from hosting a track meet for the past 20 to 25 years. In 2023, that comes to an end, with three meets — an invitational, conference meet and region meet — scheduled to take place during the span of just one week in mid-May.

With so many new experiences and opportunities on the horizon, Bridge is understandably excited for the future and what the new facilities can provide for the Hanson School students.

“It gives you a sense of pride in what our school has and I think that translates to the kids and they do better,” Bridge said. “... I pinch myself every day because I feel so blessed to be around for this and watch it develop, and it’s not anything I’m doing or have done.

“It’s hard to put that [impact] into words,” Bridge continued. “I’ve been here long enough to remember when we played on the outfield of the baseball field and we were happy when we moved to the location we play at now. I don’t know that our kids quite realize how lucky they’re going to be, but I guarantee those who have graduated the past few years are going to be envious."

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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