Here’s a story about “The Bubble.”
Yeah, “The Bub” is an ugly deal, like a dirty sweatsock, but it still works.
Iowa basketball teams don’t have a basketball practice facility. They need one and will get one. The football team has a bubble, so it will have to wait.
From the sounds of it, Iowa AD Gary Barta is looking at a whole re-do for football facilities, the Fry Complex and Bubble.
“The Bubble” on the bubble
By Marc Morehouse
The Gazette Workers inflate the University of Iowa’s indoor football practice facility, widely known as “The Bubble.” A strong storm in June 1998 had taken down the inflatable cover, and Iowa may decide to go with a permanent structure atop an indoor facility when “The Bubble” is finally replaced.
IOWA CITY — One thing about college football facilities, it’s never over.
In 2002, the University of Iowa opened the gates to its outdoor practice facility. The 2005 season unveiled the $90 million renovation of Kinnick Stadium. The Hayden Fry Football Complex and “The Bubble” indoor practice facility are on deck.
“There are challenges within those facilities that we’re going to look at from a planning perspective,” Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said.
The first step is to come up with a plan. The next is to take it to the Iowa Board of Regents and seek permission to start planning. The summer’s floods have pushed those plans — the UI sustained $231 million in damages — but Barta wants to go to the Regents soon.
“As soon as possible,” he said. “Sometime this fall, I’d like to go to the Board of Regents and say to them here’s what our future is.”
Iowa presented the Regents a master facility plan about a year and a half ago, Barta said. If the Regents say yes to this round, clarity would come to what Iowa football needs and how much it would cost.
Space is the main complaint with the Fry Complex.
“When we look at what’s out there across the country since the Hayden Fry Complex has been built (1995), it’s space,” Barta said. “Whether it’s space for strength and conditioning, meeting spaces, space for recruiting, office spaces — we’re bursting at the seams in terms of housing people. We’re bursting at the seams in the video suite. We’ve outgrown that.”
The issue with “The Bubble” isn’t looks or utility. Football coach Kirk Ferentz and Barta said “The Bubble” meets needs. Barta said he can live with the looks, a giant, worn bulbous edifice in the middle of the west side of campus.
The life span of “The Bubble,” which houses a 120-yard field and features a “Prestige XT” artificial surface, is coming to an end. Built in 1985, “The Bubble” turns 23 this year. Barta estimated its life expectancy at 15 to 30 years.
“At some point, we’re going to have to replace it,” Barta said. “When you’re doing that in a strategic planning mode, you have to decide is it still the best location? Do we put another soft structure over it? Do we put a permanent structure over it?
“When we do that, my guess is, we haven’t made the final decision, but my guess is we’ll put permanent structure over the top of it.”
Last winter, Barta and Ferentz visited a few indoor facilities, including Penn State and some NFL structures. When the Hawkeyes go on a road trip, Barta often checks out the school’s facilities for all sports.
“Just to see if I can find things that would make sense for us,” Barta said. “I always want to see what we’re competing against and maybe get some ideas for our facility.”
Men’s and women’s basketball practice facilities are likely first in line. The logic, Barta said, is need. Men’s and women’s basketball practice facilities don’t exist at Iowa.
“Part of your thought process going through these things is need,” Barta said. “In men’s and women’s basketball, we don’t have a practice facility, so there’s a need. It’s a matter of function more than style. In football, we have an indoor practice facility and when you go inside, it’s very functional.”
In April, Iowa Falls businessman Dale Howard and his wife, Marilyn, donated $5 million to the athletics department.
Most of the money will be used for Carver-Hawkeye Arena renovation and the practice facility, which carries an estimated cost of $40 million to $45 million. A portion of the gift will be used for football facilities.
Barta said fundraising is an “everyday” job, but he wasn’t ready to get into figures on a football facilities.
“We’ve had many, many discussions, not only the Carver renovation, but also future football facilities,” Barta said. “That’s how it came up in our discussions with the Howards. We’re talking with people about it every day. We’re just not to the point we’re ready to say we have these gifts ready to go for these facilities.”
Iowa’s athletics budget for 2009 is $66.1 million.