Dome rises over field; Inflation began Tuesday morning, open house set for Saturday
Published 10:43 am Wednesday, December 9, 2015
The new dome has finally been placed around the Art Hass Field at the Wescott Athletic Complex to protect athletes, walkers and others from snow, sleet, rain, wind and cold this winter.
The Austin Public Schools District is almost ready to invite the public to see the fully completed $5.2 million dome and artificial turf project, and organizers will hold an open house from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday inside the dome.
“It’s taken a little longer than we wanted to, but it is going up and after today I can answer some other questions besides ‘When’s it going up?’” Facilities Coordinator Dan Ball said. “Hopefully by the end of the week we’ll be ready to go.”
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The dome was planned to be fully inflated by Tuesday night, and Ball hopes people will be able to use it by next Monday. He explained that while groups who want to rent the dome for parties, games or practices must go through either the school or himself to reserve a time, people who wish to walk can stroll right in.
“If you’re walking, it’s going to be open probably about 6 in the morning and it will probably stay open until 8 at night,” Ball said. “So you can walk whenever you want to walk.”
Ball will have an office onsite, and though he won’t always be there, he said there will be a caretaker there at all times. Organizers are anticipating a lot of student groups from Austin Public Schools, such as softball and baseball teams, soccer students, along with golf and track and field students. Austin Parks and Recreation will also use the dome for certain programs, and there are already plans in place for adult flag football, a baseball league and a girls’ fast pitch. Ball said out of town teams have also already expressed interest in renting the dome when softball starts.
“Maybe some other people get some interest, maybe some people want to have a get-together for their business or their workers or whatever, it has a lot of possibilities,” Ball said. “It’s just going to take a while to figure out what we’re going to do.”
Ball and other organizers are excited to get the dome up and running, and said it gives community members another way to stay active in the community.
“It gives us another opportunity,” Ball said. “You’re going to see the older generation come out and do some walking. We don’t have the mall at the moment so their places to walk are limited. I think it fits the bill like an outdoor swimming pool, an ice arena, Knowlton Auditorium — I think it fits in with all that type of stuff.”
Though there were delays in inflating the dome due to weather and receiving some equipment, the work has gone smoothly thus far, according to Ball. The inflation of the dome took about one day — the team started at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Air will be constantly circulated throughout the dome, and it will be regulated at about 50 to 55 degrees inside. After inflation, workers needed to hang about 96 lights, set up netting for the walking path and set up two batting cages.
“It’s probably going to take them three days,” Ball said. “They’re hoping to have it done by Thursday or Friday so we’re ready for Saturday.”
Saturday’s open house will have a bouncy house from the YMCA of Austin, a field for kickball, batting cages will likely be available, bean bags and more. An opening ceremony will take place around 10 a.m. with organizers from the school and Vision 2020.
The project was announced in partnership with Vision 2020 in November 2014 and drew much attention — both positive and negative — from the community. The Austin Public Schools Board voted 5-1 to move forward on the $5.2 million project, which has put two artificial turf fields and the seasonal dome over Art Hass Field — early this year. The dome is part of a larger community recreation center project intended to meet community needs.
Austin Public Schools contributed $2.5 million from school reserves, and the Hormel Foundation donated $2.7 million.
The dome will be open to the community, and to adult and recreational athletic leagues.
The project also included the artificial turf on both Westott Complex fields completed before the fall sports season. The district has discussed putting artificial turf on the fields for several years, since some sports now require artificial turf for games. The artificial turf on both fields will give Austin an opportunity to host section tournament events, as the Minnesota State High School League now requires all football section title games to be played on turf.