Eastern Michigan breaks ground on $3.9 million indoor practice facility
As an Eastern Michigan University search committee interviewed football coaching candidates last winter, all eight asked for the same thing: An indoor practice facility.
An indoor facility, they said, would aid in year-long training and would help lure recruits to the Ypsilanti campus.
On Tuesday, university officials broke ground on a $3.9 million facility that will benefit not only Eastern Michigan's football program, but many of the school's other athletic programs.
The project, which is expected to be completed by March, is being funded by capital reserves and a 2005 tuition increase - 4 percent of which was earmarked for university infrastructure.
The facility will be an air-supported structure that will be configured to include a football field, an international soccer field or four youth soccer fields. University officials said the facility will also be used by the school's intramural and club sport programs and can be rented out for community use.
"It will touch every one of our student-athletes," Eastern Michigan athletic director Derrick Gragg said.
"This shows (student-athletes) the vision (for athletics) and it proves to them that we can get things done around here."
University officials traveled to the University of Colorado, which has a similar bubble indoor facility. Eastern Michigan's indoor facility will be 75 feet tall, making it conducive for the football program's special teams drills. The structure will be 410 feet long and 210 feet wide, Gragg said.
Colorado's bubble facility, one of only two being used by Division I-A programs, is only 55 feet high, which limits the school's football program use of kicking and punting while the structure is in use.
Regents chairman Roy Wilbanks said Tuesday the trip to Colorado helped calm concerns about the bubble facility, which will be constructed on one of Eastern Michigan's two football on the northeast corner of Rynearson Stadium.
While schools like Central Michigan and Western Michigan have more traditional facilities, Eastern's bubble structure comes with a much lower price tag than other types of indoor training facilities. The cost of Eastern Michigan's structure includes parking and a 1,000-square foot welcome center.
Initial discussions regarding an indoor facility included talks of a structure that could cost as much as $40 million and include locker rooms and a weight room.
"This is a great way for us to level the playing field and it can happen over the next few months rather than the next few years," Gragg said. "A (traditional) facility of this size would probably be more in the $20 million range with today's economic times and some of the things going on in the state, we wanted to be cognizant of that, but still be able to go forward with a project that will help our student athletes.
"Economically, we feel like this is the best way for us to do this right now."
The school's Board of Regents approved the plan in June. The 4 percent tuition increase initially represented $4.4 million, but that amount has grown to $17.6 million over the past four years. Those funds are being used on several infrastructure projects around the school's campus.
"This gives us a chance to train year-round and recruit against anyone in the state," women's soccer coach Scott Hall said. "This will be bigger than just a practice facility. It will bring in potential student athletes from all of metro Detroit and the Midwest and create additional exposure for the university as a whole."
First-year football coach Ron English agreed.
"All the things I told them we needed as a football program, they met every single need we asked for," English said Tuesday. "It's going to be a phenomenal facility for this university."
Jeff Arnold covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at 734-623-2554 or firstname.lastname@example.org