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Inflatable dome construction delayed once again


Courtesy Rick Mello. Note: This is a mockup of the inflatable bubble by Rice Athletics, but not necessarily representative of the size or location of the actual bubble. 

By Kelly Liao     4/21/20 6:51pm

The construction of the inflatable dome has been delayed by at least one month after the company that manufactures and installs the air structure paused all construction operations, according to Rick Mello, the deputy athletics director. The company’s operations, which have been halted due to the coronavirus pandemic, are currently set to resume in mid-May. 

The inflatable dome, to be named the Robert L. Waltrip Indoor Training Center, is designed to be used by multiple varsity and club athletic teams. The construction was already delayed due to contractor concerns last September and was estimated to complete by this May. 

Mello said the construction of the dome, which will be 80,000 square feet in area and approximately 66 feet in height, is now expected to be completed around mid-June, and will provide its users with air conditioning in the summer heat. 

The Student Association Senate had expressed concerns about gender equity regarding the usage of the dome in last April. Students were worried that the dome would exclude users outside of the football team, a men’s sport. However, Mello said the use of the dome would not be limited to football.

“Two of Rice varsity field sports — women’s soccer and men’s football — have set time blocks in the fall semester in order to accommodate practice in the event of extreme heat or inclement weather,” Mello said. 

Rice Athletics had been meeting with former SA President Grace Wickerson on a quarterly basis to discuss dome construction and how the space would be used. 

“I began talking to students to outline which [intramural] and club sports would benefit from having additional field space to use, with sports like powderpuff being highly cited as needing the additional fields as the Kraft Hall took up their space,” Wickerson, a Brown College senior, said.

The space can be booked by intramural and club sports through the Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center and is open to student requests as well, according to Wickerson. 

To address students’ concerns about the safety of the bike tracks, Mello said security cameras will also be installed around the structure and once the structure is in place, there will be review of the outside lighting. 

“We were unable to continue these discussions due to COVID-19, but I know it will be of critical importance when Rice can return to normal,” Wickerson said.

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