With a backdrop of dozens of football players, coaches and cheerleaders, an $8 million makeover of Augustana College’s football and track facilities began Thursday.

A dozen gold shovels of dirt were turned on the northwest corner of Ericson Field to mark the start of construction of the Austin E. Knowlton Outdoor Athletic Complex.

When completed, in time for the opening game of the Vikings’ 2013 football season, the facility will include the Charles D. Lindberg Stadium, the Ken Anderson Academic All-America Club, the Players’ Plaza and the Viking Patio and Overlook.

“It will be a facility worthy of the tradition of the Augustana football program,” Augustana College president Stephen Bahls said. “There will not be a facility like this anywhere in Division III.”

Lindberg, a 1950 Augustana graduate and member of the school’s board of trustees, participated in the groundbreaking ceremony after accepting a Vikings jersey with his name on the back as the newest honorary member of the Augustana football team.

The 1,500-seat stadium will be built on the north side of the field. The structure will house new locker rooms, team meeting and athletic training space as well as consolidated office space for the program’s coaches.

“These players deserve the best facilities and with the Knowlton Foundation funding the entire project, they will have them,” Lindberg said. “It’s a great project and very needed. The facilities here now are pretty much the same ones I remember from my college days. It’s time.”

The existing stadium at Augustana was built in 1936 and expanded in 1962, and Vikings coach Rob Cushman welcomes the improvements.

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In addition to larger, more modern locker rooms, team meetings that are held in three buildings elsewhere on campus can be held at the stadium, and coaches offices that are spread out at the Carver PE Center will be together in the complex.

“It will be a much more functional setup, and it will move our program forward,” Cushman said. “The playing field in Division III is not real level right now. A number of institutions have invested in facilities, and while Augustana won for so many years with great talent and great coaching we have fallen behind others from a facility standpoint.”

Modest changes have been made to plans since the project first was unveiled in July. An outdoor deck area for fans has been expanded, and the team meeting room was moved from one end of the facility to a spot adjacent to the locker room.

Director of athletics Mike Zapolski said the project continues a transformation of the institution’s athletic facilities which has taken place over the past eight years.

Augustana opened a new baseball facility in 2004, celebrated a significant renovation of the Carver PE Center in 2008 and dedicated a new soccer and lacrosse facility in 2011.