Pitt students and club sports athletes received a much-needed facilities upgrade Monday morning, as the University officially opened the Pitt Sports Dome to the student body.
The sunny sky and warm weather were in stark contrast to the dome’s primary purpose as a functional winter facility, something Chancellor Patrick Gallagher joked about during his speech in front of the students and faculty who came to honor the occasion.
“Of course, on a day like today, you may be thinking, ‘Why did we build a sports dome? It’s so nice,’” Gallagher said. “But Pittsburgh weather doesn’t always bless us with days like this.”
The dome — located behind the Charles L. Cost Center — will serve as a new practice facility for many of the University’s club sports teams and as a recreational field space for student organizations to reserve. Standing at 80 feet and covering 100,000 square feet, the $13.2 million facility contains three full-size turf fields.
Until now, Pitt’s club and recreational sports teams have had to share the space at the Cost Center to hold practices, with some teams meeting late into the night. The new facility will help to relieve the congestion at the Cost Center by providing clubs with extra space.
Club lacrosse player Brian Stefan said the dome will help his team organize practices at more convenient hours.
“[Scheduling practices] for the lacrosse team specifically, it’s been absolutely terrible,” Stefan, a senior natural sciences major, said. “We can normally get about two nights a week and they’re always after 9 [p.m.] … and then we have to share it with [a few] other sports teams.”
According to Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner, the process of building the dome began in 2012 under former Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kathy Humphrey because students often talked about wanting more on-campus recreation facilities. The dome was formally announced this past summer, and construction began shortly afterwards, with the giant white bubble being inflated Dec. 20. Since then, the construction team has installed the turf and lighting, among other necessities
The unveiling of the dome, Bonner said, was an important milestone for Pitt’s club sports teams and recreational organizations.
“Today is a mark in a long journey for us to look at how we can improve our campus recreation facilities,” Bonner said.
Bonner said the benefit of this facility to the campus will outweigh its hefty price tag. Considering Pitt’s urban landscape, he’s pleased the University found room to construct it and he hopes the students will come to see it as a worthwhile investment.
“I think it’s a pretty big step [for student recreation],” Bonner said. “I think that having something like the Pitt Dome gives our students that much more space to participate in recreation, particularly during the winter months.”
Linda Morse, a member of Pitt’s women’s ultimate frisbee team, agreed the dome would be extremely useful.
“I think that the dome is going to be a great addition and definitely a draw for incoming Pitt students,” Morse, a senior` applied statistics and mathematics major, said. “The Cost Center just isn’t a practical use and the dome is a state-of-the-art facility that shows that the school not only cares about the Division I sports but also about all the Pitt students.”
At the base of the structure, Gallagher, Bonner and Club Sports Council Member Maddie Wirth gave speeches before the group finished the on-stage event with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“This project itself was a direct reflection of what happens when our student organizations identify a need and our Pitt community dedicates itself to finding an answer,” Gallagher said in his speech.
The Office of Student Affairs then invited those in attendance inside to take a first look at the indoor facility.
Students immediately flocked inside the enormous bubble to take part in games like cornhole and Spikeball. Players hit the ball back and forth, diving and lobbing it to their teammates — some in athletic shorts, others in business attire.
Several club sports teams who plan on using the fields had tables set up to show off their accomplishments and give students information about their group. Student Affairs distributed free blue T-shirts and water bottles commemorating the dome’s grand opening.
Outside the dome, the University held a catered lunch for both students and faculty. Gallagher and new Pitt Athletic Director Heather Lyke ate sandwiches while chatting with Pitt’s club hockey athletes, who sported their retro-colored jerseys for the opening.
Student Government Vice President and Chief of Cabinet Rohit Anand was one of the strongest advocates for the dome. His role, he said, was to bring forth the students’ opinions to those higher up in the administration.
“I mostly met with [Assistant Director for Facilities & Aquatics] Jason Miller,” Anand said. “I just talked to him about how students really wanted to see campus recreation [and] some of the feedback we got from students and how we could work together to go about improving it for all students.”
Without the students voicing their opinion, the facility would not have been built this quickly.
But not everyone was happy about the spending. A group of student activists decided to voice their displeasure by unfurling a banner which stated, “$13M+ for the Dome but not $15 for workers?” referencing the recent push for an increase in minimum wage.
Anand — a graduating senior — has no such complaints. While he won’t be able to enjoy the Dome, he’s proud of what he and his peers accomplished.
“This is a huge achievement for Student Affairs and for all students,” Anand said. “It’s awesome just seeing this coming in and knowing how much of an impact it’s going to make.”