At NMU, there's no place like dome

Michigan State Roundup

Published July 1, 1991  | July 1991 issue

The world's largest wooden dome is scheduled for completion Aug. 23 at Northern Michigan University (NMU) in Marquette. Grand opening festivities will be held in mid-September to inaugurate the dome that will house the university's athletic program and sporting events.

At 14 stories high, the $21.8 million sports training complex is the tallest building in Marquette. Made entirely of Douglas fir, it covers five acres of playing fields and seating for 8,000. Retractable Astro Turf carpet rests on a cushion of air over the playing field, which can accommodate football, soccer, rugby, field hockey, tennis and badminton.

Begun in October 1989, the construction project has employed about 100 workers, most of them local, with peak employment at about 125 when the roof was under construction. This dome surpasses a similar dome in Seattle for size by only a few feet.

The dome will be home to NMU's Olympic Education Center, the only training grounds designated by the U.S. Olympic Committee where trainees can also be enrolled in college.

The domed stadium is also expected to attract regional events such as high school tournaments, commencement ceremonies and concerts. In a climate that can receive 200 inches or more of snow a year, stadium planners expect fans to warm up quickly to the idea of an indoor facility.

The city expects the dome to have a positive effect on the economic life of the community. "It gives us a location for conventions," says Herb Parsons, chief executive officer of the Marquette Area Chamber of Commerce. "We have the accommodations. We don't see a downside to it."

However, cuts to the state's budget leave the promised funds for operating the dome and construction of the second and third phases in limbo. These phases include several components cut from the initial plan for lack of funding, that is, locker rooms, press boxes and ticket booths, as well as enhancements such as sports medicine facilities, offices and an ice arena. And without state aid for operations, the dome falls $670,000 short of its estimated annual operating cost of $927,000. Nonetheless, the university is optimistic about the Aug. 23 date. "We're confident that the money will be there," says NMU spokesman Mike Clark.

Nettie Pignatello