University May Build Bubble Over Stadium

The country’s oldest concrete stadium may get a face lift—or at least a new hat.

Administrators are currently considering a plan to put a seasonal dome over Harvard Stadium and also add turf, stadium lights and locker rooms within the walls of the stadium’s “horseshoe,” the area beneath the bleachers.

The move represents a major step in ongoing efforts to address what officials see as the chief shortcomings in Harvard’s undergraduate athletic resources—namely, a lack of sufficient recreational space and adequate locker rooms—without building on top of existing fields.

The construction of the dome would also allow for greater flexibility in the long-anticipated renovation of the Malkin Athletic Center (MAC).

“You could do much more with the MAC if you did some reorganization on the other side of the river,” Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby said in an interview Friday. “In an ideal world, there could be much more recreational space.”

Plans for the MAC renovation are ongoing, Kirby confirmed Friday. He said he expected plans for the center would be announced by the end of the year.

Funding either of these projects might prove difficult, as expenses rise while the University’s endowment payout remains flat, Kirby said.

“The main consideration regarding the scope and timing of renovations to the Stadium, like those of the MAC, are really financial,” Kirby wrote in an e-mail yesterday.

The stadium changes, however, are all but definite.

“Alterations are something we have to do no matter what, given the structural integrity of the stadium,” Kirby said. “The timing is the real question.”

Ebullient About the Bubble

As Harvard Stadium celebrated its 100th birthday this weekend, Kirby reflected on the need not only to maintain the landmark structure, but also to improve it.

“It’s a great, beautiful stadium. It needs work,” he said. “Regular maintenance has to happen. But it may be capable of hosting many more activities than it currently can host.”

Director of Athletics Robert L. Scalise said Friday that while no concrete plans for construction yet exist, several options are under consideration, such as building a removable dome that would extend the stadium’s season throughout the winter and constructing locker rooms and facilities underneath the field.

“There are a lot of things we are thinking about considering,” Scalise said. “Wouldn’t it be cool to have intramural football tournaments or ultimate Frisbee games [there]?”

Scalise also listed putting turf and lights in the stadium as ways to extend the use of the football field well into the year and possibly open it up for use by other teams and recreational purposes.

“The grass can only [be used] so much before it turns to mud,” he said. “With turf and lights, more activities could be done there more of the time.”

Football Coach Tim Murphy said that the dome would provide an opportunity to combine a much-needed renovation of the stadium with the equally urgent creation of new recreational athletic space.

“Harvard Football’s main facilities have not been upgraded in about half a century and are in many ways antiquated at best,” Murphy said. “With the lack of overall building space, it is critical that we maximize what we have. The tentative plans would go a long way in improving some desperately needed facilities for many of Harvard’s athletic teams.”

Remaking the MAC

Plans to upgrade Harvard Stadium have emerged alongside discussions about renovating the MAC, which has long been slated for improvement.

The MAC serves all 6,000 undergraduates, as well as faculty members and staff. A report released in the spring of 2002 outlined different options for increasing undergraduate athletic space, with an eye to maximizing female varsity locker space and room for recreational athletics while keeping field space constant. All of the proposed plans included some form of MAC renovation to satisfy these goals.

But financial concerns, compounded with the uncertainty of the University’s future in Allston, have delayed plans for the renovation.

Kirby, along with Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71, has said many times in the past two years that the MAC is in need of renovation.

“I desperately want to renovate the MAC,” Kirby said. “We will be looking to improve current facilities, and soon.”

According to Associate Dean of the College Thomas A. Dingman ’67, there have been several different plans for the MAC over the past few years.

One early suggestion involved moving the three teams that currently practice at the MAC—wrestling, fencing and volleyball—to venues across the River, and completely reconfiguring the gym exclusively for undergraduate recreational purposes.

But that plan had been put on hold temporarily, Dingman said, because of concerns about cost and pending decisions about how to use the University’s land in Allston.

“People are, wisely, hesitant to commit to things across the river, if things might change there,” he said.

In the works now, according to Dingman, is a smaller-scale renovation that would keep the three teams in the MAC but still increase recreational space.

“A reduced plan is an advisable short-term plan, but there are those who say that we shouldn’t do the reduced plan if we can do the larger, long-term plan,” Dingman said. “You’d undo what you’d just fixed.”

In the meantime, Kirby suggested, there may be a possibility of moving more equipment into House gyms. To immediately satisfy students’ chief exercise resource demand—more workout machines—the Undergraduate Council allocated $13,000 last year to improving facilities and equipment in House gyms.

Similarly, Scalise said that the stadium was targeted for renovations since the current budget crunch has focused the College’s attention on renovating old facilities—not building new ones.

“The cost of things is always a factor,” he said. “[The bubble] is a low-cost alternative to building another field house.”

But administrators say that these are short-term answers to what may prove to be a larger, long-term problem.

“In time we will need a rather different set of recreational facilities in different parts of the campus,” Kirby said.

Dome Won’t Be Built in a Day

Kirby said that the University’s future campus will not stand in the way of solving the recreational space problem.

“I am sure that the need to plan for Allston, now—which is very important—need not derail or delay other plans for athletics,” Kirby said.

Instead, Kirby suspects that money will be the primary decision-maker.

“In a moment when the growth in our income is quite low, a 2 percent increase this year from our endowment, while our expenses have increased by much more—and next year there may be no increase at all in the funds we receive as endowment income—we have to look with care at what we can do,” Kirby said.

It is unclear where the money for the stadium revamping and MAC renovation will come from, but Dingman said much will depend on the whims of athletic donors.

“I suspect that there are a lot of alumni who have participated in or have a fondness for athletics,” Dingman said. “The question is whether they’re as interested in the strengthening of recreational athletics, and I’m not sure. The top draw is to help intercollegiate athletics.”

One alum, speaking last Friday at an event to commemorate the stadium’s centennial, expressed doubts about the merits of the dome.

“I don’t know what you would need it for,” said John L. Powers ’70. “There are now so many other indoor facilities.”

Powers also pointed to Harvard’s inauspicious history with bubbles and athletic facilities.

In December 1973, a winter wind ripped the corner of a 5-year-old bubble off the now-nonexistent Farrell Intercollegiate Track facility, sending the $300,000 nylon structure floating to the ground.

—Staff writer Rebecca D. O’Brien can be reached at robrien@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Jessica E. Vascellaro can be reached at vascell@fas.harvard.edu.