by Ward Mullens, Published May 25, 2011
YPSILANTI - Eastern Michigan University's Indoor Athletic Practice Facility, also known as "The Bubble," is paying dividends for the University, the community and EMU athletics in its first year of operation.
"I think the facility has been invaluable," said Derrick Gragg, Eastern Michigan University athletic director. "It is the first time in EMU athletic history that our football team has been able to do conditioning and practice in the winter months without interruption. We also have seen improvement in our baseball and softball programs, and the practice facility has had something to do with that. This facility should help reduce the competitive advantages that other programs have had in the past and is helping EMU catch up to other schools."
"Everything has gone very smoothly," said Mark Monahan, director of the EMU Convocation Center, which oversees the indoor practice facility. "Since January it has been booked all the time. We have had a ton of youth sports use it."
The indoor practice facility, which cost $3.9 million to built, was inflated February 2010. The facility is a permanent air-supported structure that is 410 feet long, 210 feet wide, and 75 feet tall and includes a welcome center (1,100 square feet) and convertible space (86,000 square feet) that can be configured for a football field, an international soccer field, four youth soccer fields or two youth baseball/softball fields.
The facility is staffed by a full-time supervisor and student staff. The facility, located at 150 Westview Drive, is open Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. For additional information, go to http://www.emich.edu/convocation/emu-indoor-practice-facility-information.html or call 734.485-5476
Youth soccer, Little League baseball, high school football teams, EMU club sports, recreational groups and six intercollegiate teams have used the facility since it opened last year, said Monahan. The six intercollegiate sports that use the facility are football, baseball, softball, women's soccer and men's and women's golf.
"It has had a huge impact," said Karen Baird, EMU softball coach. "As soon as we played our first game you could see a difference."
One of the advantages, according to Baird, is players get a much more realistic experience in the facility than where they were practicing before, Bowen Field House.
"It's a facility that allows you to play a game in a much more regular sense," Baird said. "It gives a truer sense of playing on a regular surface."
The softball team finished the 2011 season with the second highest winning percentage in EMU softball history, going 26-18.
"It's been fantastic for our league," said Dave York, soccer manager for Total Sports Complex. "We are able to incorporate more Ann Arbor based clubs so they don't have to drive so far to play." Total Sports Complex runs youth soccer programs in southeastern Michigan and Ohio that includes about 700 players.
Monahan said there has been one challenge for the facility.
"Parking has been an issue because business is so good," he said.
The facility has 100 spaces, but the volume associated with its use has led Monahan to request additional parking. Currently, Monahan said that a shuttle service to and from additional parking at Westview has helped offset the situation.
"We need about 50 more spaces," said Monahan. He said there is a proposal to add additional spaces on a hill near the existing spaces.
Monahan said the facility had netted $325,000 in user fees as of March and is "in the black." However, he said some utility billing issues are still being worked out so determining a profit margin is difficult at this point.
"I think it was a great decision by the University," said Monahan of building the facility. "The community seems pleased. It has been wonderful for the University and it is paying for itself."