Providing cover for foul-weather workouts

Air Structure

Steve Belfiglio

Sporting images of both the Penn shield and the Penn Athletics’ split P, one of the University’s newest structures has caused a lot of rubbernecking lately.

At Penn Park, the Dunning-Cohen Champions' Field was recently topped with a 70,000-pound canvas seasonal air structure (resembling a bubble) that will enable students, faculty and staff to use the indoor green space during the upcoming cold weather months.

“It operates like a regular building, but it’s seasonal,” Mike Diorka, associate athletic director for facilities at Penn Athletics says of the indoor field. “[The air structure] will go up each November and come down in March.”

The special roof, which stands 72-feet tall, 386-feet long and 242-feet wide, took mere hours to fully inflate, using its own designated air-handling unit (AHU). Ed Sidor, director of design and construction at Facilities and Real Estate Services, says the AHU maintains a constant air pressure that keeps the structure inflated, and the unit is held in place by cables anchored to a subterranean concrete beam.

The interior temperature of the field will be kept at 55 to 60 degrees. Each end of the structure is equipped with an air lock entrance, and there are six emergency exits along its sides.  

A back-up emergency generator stands at the ready in case of a power outage, and a wind sensor measures the velocity of gusts that might affect the structure’s performance. The AHU is designed to adjust the air pressure for stabilization and balance as required. In an emergency, the structure will deflate slowly.

Seasonal Air

Steve Belfiglio

When it snows, Sidor says, the domed shape of the structure will allow the precipitation to slide off the sides. “If there is a heavy snow,” he adds, “the interior pressure will increase so that the air structure maintains its integrity.”

Diorka says the indoor venue, with a maximum capacity of 250, will provide playing space for students, club and intramural sports, as well as off-season conditioning space for intercollegiate teams.

“It is impressive when inside,” Sidor says. “Penn students, athletes and coaches are excited about this new space to practice, compete and test their abilities."

However, the structure is not ready for use quite yet. Crews are currently working to complete the electrical and heating components.

Employees will be able to use the facility during lunchtime hours, and departments will be able to schedule a field day or a soccer competition. For more information, call 215-898-6100 or visit www.upenn.edu/recreation.

Originally published on November 17, 2011