Rejoice: The Dome is Officially Open

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Photo by James McClendon

Zach Thomann, Sports Editor

March 17, 2017 will be a date in history that students at Utica College will never forget.

Last year’s collapse of the Todd and Jen Hutton Sports and Recreation Center, affectionately called “the dome,” will forever be a staple of what students remember from their experience on campus.

After over a year of waiting and speculating, the dome, along with numerous improvement, is functional and open to the public once again. The news a relief for UC’s athletes and faculty, who have had to coordinate practices without the dome.

The facilities reopening, originally scheduled for Dec. 1, was quickly pushed back, and an onslaught on new dates followed.

David Fontaine, UC’s athletic director, hopes that students were understanding during that time period and said his goal was to get the dome opened as soon as possible while also keeping every feature in the dome up to the highest of standards.

“We were passed along dates by workers, but the target moved when we faced obstacles,” he said.

Fontaine said that shipments were put on back-order multiple times for essential pieces of equipment, and it was challenging to coordinate with the vast amount of workers’ schedules.

“I know everybody was anxious,” Fontaine said. “They wanted a date, but when you give them a date and can’t stick to it they question why we aren’t done yet. It’s a situation where you can’t win.”

Fontaine explained he has learned in the future to say, “Hopefully, as soon as possible,” when someone asks for a date. Despite being four months over the original deadline, Fontaine said that the extra time spent to make improvements to the new dome will pay off.

“With something that was incredibly inconvenient, we found a way to change things we would never have been able to fix,” Fontaine said. “I’m sure the student-athletes are excited about it.”

One change that athletes will see to the new dome is a larger weight room which is roughly twice the size of the original. There is also an athletic training room connected to the weight room to respond to injuries on site. In addition to those changes, the netting along the inside of the track was not re-installed because it was “unneeded.”

Fontaine is thankful for the efforts from the faculty to make suggestions on how to improve the dome and is especially grateful for the work head track coach Eric Parker put in to get the most of the space provided.

The new dome is 15 feet taller, but it still has the same footprint.

The designs that Parker helped produce utilize every part of the area provided. This includes the batting cage location which allows the area to stay up and not have to be taken down after every use.

Teams have been utilizing the dome as much as they can since January, according to Fontaine. While the whole facility was not open, the turf was one of the first things installed for team use throughout the winter.

Fontaine is happy with how understanding the workers were when coordinating with athletes.

“They have been great, especially with the flooring,” Fontaine said. “We’ve had people in and out while it was still being completed, and they were all great to work with.”

In addition to his appreciation for the workers in the dome, Fontaine is also thankful for the efforts of Utica president Laura Casamento. He said that without her support, the reopening of the dome may have not happened as quickly.

“She was on board from the time it went down to the time it was finished,” Fontaine said. “She was a driving force for the project and shows it truly was a team effort from everyone at the college. One person can’t complete a project of this size.”

Despite the year-long wait, the reopening of the dome will not a receive a grand announcement or event from the college — Fontaine believes that the reopening does not need to be “theatrical.”

“Things are running smoothly down there,” Fontaine said. “But, we probably won’t have a celebratory opening ceremony because we already did that once, and it doesn’t need to be done again.”

Fontaine has been more concerned about making the dome available for athletes rather than informing the public. He feels that the students are the ones who have suffered without it, and the impact on him or the faculty is nothing compared to the inconvenience for each athlete on campus.

“I feel so happy for our student-athletes,” Fontaine said. “Everyone missed the dome, but nobody complained. I’m just so grateful for their cooperation and understanding that the dome would go back up.”

Although the winter season is over, the dome will serve as an extra space for clinics and events during the spring.

Overall, this has been a learning experience for everyone on campus, Fontaine said, and he believes the college has improved.

“We have learned to be patient in the process,” Fontaine said. “It’s important to not get caught up in the moment because you can’t navigate clearly. There were a bunch of moving parts, and I’m just happy for our athletes that it’s back.”

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