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An inflatable air structure, which will cover a field to be used for the lacrosse, softball and baseball teams, will be in use from November to mid-March. (Courtesy of Jennifer Rizzi)

When the snow starts to fall this winter, Penn teams will have no reason to cancel practice — and they won’t even have to get wet.
Come November, the new landscape of Penn Park will feature a giant bubble that will tower over the train tracks.

This seasonal air structure will change the way Penn’s outdoor teams practice, providing a large, heated space for use during the winter months — an amenity Penn has never experienced.

“It’s a program changer for us,” baseball coach John Cole said.
Until this year, the only indoor practice space for teams was the Hollenbeck Annex, a small structure whose concrete surface and limited space made it difficult to simulate game-like situations.

“When the weather breaks and our teams go south to perform, they will be better equipped because this air structure gives them a full field size,” Associate Athletic Director Michael Diorkaok said. “Inside of this, you can literally simulate a game which we haven’t been able to do in the past.”

The structure will be placed over the Dunning-Cohen Champions Field and will be used from Nov. 1st through March 19th, with three weeks allowed to both set it up and take it down.

While a specific cost of the structure was not specified because it was tied in to other Penn Park expenses, “It could be the same as an allocated cost for a small building of this size, and that could be a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Diorka said.

And although coaches say it may not give their teams a competitive advantage, it certainly provides a boost for player development and recruiting.

“The idea is it gives you a developmental advantage,” Cole said. “Whether it gives you a competitive advantage will depend on how good your team is, but from a developmental situation, it will definitely help.”

“This is a pretty significant point of difference from our competitors during recruiting,” men’s lacrosse coach Mike Murphy said, a sentiment echoed by Cole and softball coach Leslie King.
Cole also noted the importance of showing prospective players from the Northeast that they don’t have to go far away to get year-round facilities that will help them become better players.

Murphy said the new facility will allow his team to practice a few more times than usual, but he still plans on having outdoor practices. He added that he doesn’t want his players to be “softened” by playing in temperate conditions, and therefore unprepared for cold, outdoor games.

The field’s dimensions are 370 feet by 250 feet, large enough for a full-size lacrosse field, a baseball diamond or even two softball fields. Its height of 73 feet allows the baseball and softball teams to play game situation, pop-up balls.

“We have to go from indoors to competing the first weekend in March,” King said. “There’s no in-between for us and this space will better prepare us to step right out and play.”

The idea to install the seasonal air structure grew out of a plan to build a fieldhouse that would have contained an indoor track and a new pool, but the cost became too great to implement, according to Diorka.

Diorka said the athletic department looked at facilities at other universities, and ultimately got the inspiration for the air structure from Harvard, which covers its football field with a similar structure.

After realizing that imitating Harvard’s setup at Franklin Field would be too expensive, the department began to consider a seasonal air structure during the planning of Penn Park.

Murphy said he prefers having the structure at Penn Park rather than over Franklin Field because “we have an additional space now and it doesn’t affect our game facility … it gives us more flexibility.”

Meanwhile, Diorka said the facility can be used 24/7 if necessary, allowing not just on-and-off-season varsity teams to practice, but also club and even intramural teams to use the space.

When installed in November, the structure will be hard to miss. And with the innovative indoor space now provided to the Quakers, the spring seasons should not be missed, either.

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