A dome deflated

A+dome+deflated

James McClendon, Editor-in-Chief

 

The Todd and Jenn Hutton Recreation Center opened its doors on Dec. 12, 2015 – and a little more than a year later it may be no more.

Winter Storm Stella hit the east coast last week and the Hutt, as it is affectionately called, appears to be a casualty.

School officials quickly attempted to assess the damage and were in contact with dome manufacturer Yeadon Air Supported Structures. Utica College Athletic Director Dave Fontaine gave no speculation as to the cause of the collapse, however, an investigation is underway.

“The cause is still under investigation so we will have experts come in from Yeadon,” Fontaine said.  “They are going to look at all the parameters of the dome and see what the actual cause was.”

According to Yeadon’s website, the air supported domes they provide are designed for easy maintenance and incorporate the latest innovations in anchoring, mechanical and electrical systems. They also provide life-long technical support for all air-supported domes it supplies.

Yeadon had no comment about the incident.

“They had someone on site last week but they have not submitted any kinds of reports,” Fontaine said.

The dome is the second largest air supported structure in North America and features an eight-lane, 200-meter NCAA regulation indoor track. There were four courts which were primarily used for basketball and tennis, as well as a multi-sport artificial turf field. The facility also consisted of an area for weight lifting, locker rooms and batting cages.

The first step is assessing the damage and figuring out exactly what was lost.

“We are trying to put together an inventory of everything that was in the dome,” Fontaine said. “We want to make sure we have a solid inventory and we will move forward from that point.”

Kelly Adams, assistant vice president for advancement, wanted to assure the UC community that the investigation process in ongoing and that as soon as any new information is learned, it will be shared with students, faculty and staff first.

“It’s not a simple process and it’s continuing,” Adams said. “We hope to have the dome up and running soon. Students, faculty and staff have been really patient so far and very understanding.”

Many sports teams will be affected by the loss of the dome, but none more than the men and women’s track and field team. Their offices were located within the permanent portion of the Hutt.

Head coach Eric Parker and his staff have been displaced from their work space.

“We have a temporary office in the dance room on the second floor,” Parker said, “right next to the football offices in Clark.”

The loss of the Hutt may also have an impact on recruiting efforts for other sports. Many coaches at UC have used it as a selling point for prospective athletes and their families.

“Certainly, the dome is a great draw, especially for recruits,” Fontaine said. “We want to make sure we get it up and running as soon as possible because it is an attraction. I think recruits will understand when they walk on campus but they too want to know what the plan is. The plan is to have it up and running as soon as we possibly can. Unfortunately, there is no specific date.”

With winter storms and heavy snow being very common in the Mohawk Valley, the question of whether an air supported dome is viable must be considered. As Yeadon says on its website, its domes are cost efficient measures, but the question has arisen: are they strong enough to withstand the elements of the area?

“The big thing is you hate to see something like that happen,” Fontaine said. “You hate to see a beautiful structure on the Utica College campus come down.”

The collapse occurred during the college’s spring break, so the building was empty.

“But things could have been a lot worse,” Fontaine said. “This conversation would have been lot different if there were injuries, or worse, fatalities. I consider us, given this tough situation, to be very lucky. Because you can’t put a price tag on an injury or a human life. We can rebuild. Something can be done.”