by Geoff Larcom, Published July 13, 2010
Walter Kraft stood at the entrance of the towering, new indoor sports practice facility at Eastern Michigan University.
"It's hard to believe what has happened in seven months," Kraft said, glancing around momentarily. "Just seven months ago, we were just (first) putting shovels into the ground."
Kraft, Eastern Michigan's vice president for communications, spoke to a crowd of about 125 people the morning of June 15 at the official opening and ribbon-cutting of the $3.9 inflatable facility, which sits prominently off Huron River Drive at the north end of Rynearson Stadium.
Kraft led off a variety of speakers who praised the new facility and the effort that went into building it, while noting its benefits to the campus and to the community.
Roy Wilbanks, chairman for the EMU Board of Regents, recalled how he had visited Colorado with athletics personnel to study other, similar university facilities. The regents had originally considered a smaller-sized facility, but ultimately opted for a larger building that would house a full football field that could be divided into four smaller surfaces for youth or club sports.
"We certainly try to make things available to the community," Wilbanks said, noting Eastern's strong history in that regard. "Look inside, and you'll see we did it right."
The facility will be used by the varsity football, golf, soccer, baseball and softball teams, along with Eastern's intramural and club sports and area community youth sports groups. Four Eastern Michigan women's soccer games have been scheduled for the facility next fall.
"This is a facility we need as a proud member of the Mid-American Conference and Division I," President Sue Martin told the crowd.
Eastern Athletic Director Derrick Gragg called the new facility "another crown jewel (of EMU's athletic facilities), along with the Convocation Center."
Head football coach Ron English, who's going into his second year at EMU, spoke of the mission "to bring championship football to Eastern the right way," noting how such a facility helps in reaching that goal.
"You can't do much better than this," English said.
Bridger Buche, a junior offensive tackle from Portland, Mich., noted how painful it is for large players such as him to train on the hard surface at Bowen Field House.
"This will help us grow and be a force in the MAC," he said. "The players will show the same amount of effort (that went into building the facility)."
Diane Keller, president of the Ypsilanti Area Chamber of Commerce, praised Eastern as a community leader, with the athletic facility serving as the latest example.
"Managers do the right thing," Keller said. "Good leaders do things right."
Keller said the facility would bring many children to the campus area.
"It's a win-win for all of us," she said.
After the talks, visitors who went inside were greeted by two long rows of applauding Eastern varsity athletes, making for a grand entrance into the expansive interior.
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. Also, there is a 100-space vehicle parking lot.
According to Mark Monahan, director of the Convocation Center and coordinator for the practice facility, there already has been a lot of interest in renting the space from the community. Revenues from facility rentals are projected to exceed operating costs of the facility.
Although scheduling is still being worked out, the facility will be open from 6 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Rates for the facility will vary based on peak season or off-season booking. During the peak season (October-March), rates will range from $100-$400 per hour. During the off-season (April-September), the rates will be $100-$300.
The indoor practice facility is the second major building project to open on Eastern's campus this academic year. In September, Eastern cut the ribbon on a new headquarters for the Department of Public Safety. The facility is located in the old Hoyt Conference Center, at the northwest end of campus.
For a video of comments and the ribbon-cutting, go to http://www.emich.edu/video/index.php?v=bubbleribbon