Pitt club, intramural teams concerned about planned Sports Dome demolition


TPN file photo

Students gather outside the $13.2 million Pitt Sports Dome for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony.

By Alex Lehmbeck, Senior Staff Writer

Several Pitt club and intramural teams, faced with the prospect of losing their home playing field on upper campus, have asked the University to halt the planned demolition of the Sports Dome and reconsider its Victory Heights redevelopment plan.

Pitt Athletic Director Heather Lyke unveiled a $250 million transformation of the University’s athletic facilities in January, originally set to begin construction on upper campus in summer 2021. The Sports Dome, a $13.2 million facility opened in 2017, would be demolished to make space for new band and track facilities.

Malik Talaat, the vice president of the men’s club lacrosse team, said the dome was originally proposed to be removed before the 2021-22 academic year, leaving many teams without a space to practice. Talaat said one possible solution would be for the University to give club sports athletes access to some of the planned Victory Heights facilities, such as the outdoor lacrosse field that will be built.

Talaat added that he feels like the club sports athletes have gotten the short end of the stick with Victory Heights, compared to those on varsity teams, who will have new facilities on campus.

“They seem to be casting club sports off to the wayside, only letting the varsity teams use these fields,” Talaat said.

Lyke and Kenyon Bonner, the vice provost and dean of students, hosted a February meeting open to all club sports athletes to address questions about the dome’s future. Miranda Kosowsky, the 2020 president of the women’s club frisbee team, said officials discussed building a new facility for club sports in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood, across the Monongahela River from Oakland.

“It was still very much in the air, and Pitt wanted to make sure they had community support before building off campus,” Kosowsky said. “They were floating the idea of running shuttles to this new athletic facility.”

Pitt spokesperson Kevin Zwick said due to budget uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, design and construction plans for Victory Heights projects have been placed on hold. He did not directly answer questions about whether new facilities would only be open to varsity athletes.

“Within this landscape, we are only advancing select critical projects,” Zwick said.

Some club sports teams decided to apply more pressure in May to University leaders. Koskowsky, her twin sister Sophia, also a member of the women’s club frisbee team, and 90 other men’s and women’s club frisbee team members sent a petition to Bonner, Provost Ann Cudd and Chancellor Patrick Gallagher calling the dome’s destruction a “gross misuse of resources.” They urged the University to halt the dome’s demolition and stop the Victory Heights project altogether.

“The destruction of the Sports Dome — if it continues as planned — would be a gross misuse of resources,” the petition said. “We, as students and athletes of the University of Pittsburgh, absolutely disagree with the destruction of a space that serves so many, to transform it into that serves so few.”

In the petition, players argued that little priority should be placed to build new athletics facilities amid student financial struggles and COVID-19 concerns. They called the possibility of club sports moving to the South Side “unacceptable,” arguing it would decrease the amount of students who choose to participate in club and intramural sports.

“It is irresponsible to destroy such a widely used space that is still in perfectly good condition,” the petition said.

Prior to the Sports Dome’s construction, club and intramural sports teams had to share the Cost Sports Center for practices, forcing some teams to meet late at night to get time in the facility. Kenton VanderWoude, a member of the club football team’s executive board, said he had not received any new information on the plans for the sports dome as of mid-July, and feared the team may be forced back to its old practice location.

“We assume we would be forced to schedule practices in the Cost Center or on grass fields around campus or in Schenley Park,” VanderWoude said. “Pitt’s idea/plan to tear down the sports dome adds to the already high level of uncertainty of our team and the other club teams at the University.”

Talaat said he hoped that Pitt would change its plans, and work to ensure an on-campus practice space for club and intramural teams.

“I know the varsity teams are more of a pride of Pitt, and they generally bring in more money to the University, but we matter as well,” Talaat said.