College bids farewell to its athletic ‘Bubble’

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College campus on Tuesday said goodbye to a prominent feature of its athletic complex — the Bubble.
The 40,640-square-foot air-filled structure was inflated in 2002 as a temporary home for the Panther squash courts and other athletic facilities. Workers deflated it Tuesday as work moves forward on two significant new structures in the complex.
The college has two new athletics facilities under construction: a nine-court Squash Center set for completion in October 2013, and a 110,000-square-foot field house that will host athletic, intramural, recreational and special events beginning in October 2014. The field house supplants the Bubble.
Both major construction projects, which are going on simultaneously on opposite sides of the Peterson Family Athletic Complex, are being fully funded by alumni, parents and other donors to the college. Michael D. Schoenfeld, senior vice president and member of the class of 1973, said the institution is not borrowing money to finance the two new buildings.
“We have put in place $46 million to cover the cost of both projects,” Schoenfeld said, “and we have raised $43.5 million in gifts and pledges to date. Both the president and board of trustees felt it was imperative in today’s economic environment to fully fund this building project and not take resources away from students, faculty or academic support.”
The Bubble itself replaced the former Fletcher Field House, which had irreparable structural problems after serving the college community for 28 years.
The $46 million price tag includes the removal of the Bubble, which is going to Castleton State College, in addition to all construction costs for both projects; the permitting, architectural and engineering fees; and all furniture and fixtures, including the squash courts, a rubberized 200-meter track, and an artificial-turf infield.
Director of Athletics Erin Quinn pointed out the long-term value of the new athletic facilities.
“With our location and weather there are many outdoor recreational opportunities, however for much of the year our students need indoor recreational opportunities too. We encourage them to develop good health and exercise habits and to stay active all their lives, and this project will afford them many such opportunities,” the 1986 Middlebury graduate said.
The new field house will be located at the southwest end of the athletic complex on approximately the same site as its predecessors, but it will contain more than twice the number of square feet of either the Bubble or Fletcher. It will feature a six-lane indoor track with areas beyond the oval for high jump, long jump, pole vault and throwing events. It will also have an eight-lane, 60-meter straightaway for sprints. Since the former indoor track was 180 meters and the new track will be the standard 200 meters, Middlebury will be able to host sanctioned track and field meets indoors for the first time.
In addition, the 180-foot-by-130-foot artificial-turf infield will make it possible for a host of varsity teams, club sports, and intramural and recreational activities to take place inside. The new building will also have locker rooms, coaches’ offices, meeting spaces and classrooms. It will consume less energy than the Bubble, and is expected to qualify for gold-level LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Designed by Sasaki Associates, the field house project will have some dramatic architectural features. It will have a vast wall of west-facing windows bringing natural light into the space and allowing visitors to see inside. The existing sidewalk along Route 30 will connect to both a new plaza outside the field house and to a grand new entrance to the athletic complex. And the project has enabled the college to expand and improve the lobby used during ice hockey, basketball, swimming, volleyball and other athletic events.
With a floor space of nearly 75,000 square feet, the field house will be able to accommodate approximately 5,000 seats on the floor. It is expected that the building will be permitted to hold 7,000 people, including standing room and bleacher-style seating, making it by far the largest gathering space at the college.
While Middlebury’s men’s and women’s squash teams compete at a high level against the likes of Trinity, Columbia and Yale, college officials said Middlebury’s squash facilities have not kept pace with the times. The college has long needed to increase its number of courts and improve the lighting and ventilation, sightlines for spectators, and support space for athletes.
The new, 18,000-square-foot Squash Center will increase the number of courts from five to nine, and will dedicate a modern structure to the sport. Connected to the southeast wing of the Peterson Family Athletic Complex, the new Squash Center will enable the athletic department to schedule more home squash events, and it will benefit both varsity athletes and recreational squash players on campus.
Construction on the Squash Center designed by ARC/Architectural Resources Cambridge began in November 2012 and will be completed in time for the 2013-2014 squash season. With its skylights over the central corridor and windows facing the Green Mountains, the facility will be filled with natural light. And like the new field house, the Squash Center is expected to qualify for LEED certification.
While the college is close to meeting its fundraising goal for the field house and Squash Center, more donors are needed. “We think there are alumni and parents who will want to support the project for all the good that it will do for our students and the community,” Schoenfeld said, “and there are many ways to contribute to the success of the project.”
For example, any group of teammates, classmates or friends can get together and make a “team gift” in honor of their shared interests. All donors of $25,000 or more will be recognized on a plaque in the new entry atrium. And while the naming rights for both new buildings, all nine squash courts, the indoor track and the plaza along Route 30 have been committed to generous donors, there are many naming opportunities still available. The new names will be announced when the buildings are opened.
The general contractors on both new buildings are Vermont-based companies. South Burlington’s PC Construction has the contract for the field house; Engelberth Construction of Colchester is building the Squash Center.
Editor’s note: This story was provided by Robert Keren of the Middlebury College Communications Department.

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