ORONO – The Mahaney Dome has been a tremendous resource for University of Maine athletics since its completion 14 months ago.
However, the air-supported indoor practice facility will temporarily be out of commission after a large tear developed Saturday in the building’s fabric covering.
The substantial snowfall and heavy rains that blanketed eastern Maine Friday night and Saturday apparently created excessive pressure that led to a tear in the two layers of material that cover the 38,000-square-foot facility.
“The snow load and the rain coming down made it so heavy that it couldn’t handle the load,” said Will Biberstein, UMaine’s associate athletic director for internal affairs.
On Sunday, the Mahaney Dome lay uninflated with some small pieces of yellow Fiberglas insulation visible in the snow near one end of the building.
People coming out of the Eastern Maine Sportsman’s Show at the adjacent UMaine field house early Saturday afternoon first reported a problem with the dome. University officials arrived to see a vertical gash measuring 16 to 20 feet that originated near the southwest door of the facility.
Later, a smaller horizontal tear was discovered low on the same side of the dome.
Biberstein said UMaine personnel, including facilities workers, plumbers and electricians, joined forces in an effort to remedy the problem. The crew attempted to repair the vertical tear by sandwiching the fabric that covers the building between sheets of plywood.
The plywood patch worked briefly, long enough to raise the roof high enough so workers could remove equipment and light fixtures. However, the plywood eventually separated, re-exposing the gash.
“The hole was just too big and the dome couldn’t maintain enough pressure,” said Biberstein who, along with UMaine facilities representatives, plans to speak today with officials from Yeadon Fabric Structures Ltd., the Canadian company that manufactured the dome.
The Yeadon Web site said its fabric structures are warranted for three years against defects in workmanship and materials. UMaine athletic director Blake James also said the university is insured against damage.
Biberstein said the tears appeared to be in the fabric and not along the seams that hold the three large panels together. UMaine had hoped to patch the tears and keep the dome inflated until the extent of the damage could be evaluated by Yeadon officials. Instead, the company will view photos taken while it was still partially inflated.
Biberstein said the safety of the workers was the top priority, followed by minimizing any further damage to the structure. He said there is no way to know how long the dome will be out of commission.
“Hopefully we can get it back up and operational as soon as possible,” said Biberstein.
He explained the Mahaney Dome is equipped with sensors on its roof that monitor the amount of external pressure caused by snow accumulation and high winds. When normal levels are exceeded, the sensors are designed to increase the interior air pressure of the dome to more than twice its normal level, making it more rigid and stable.
UMaine has tried one other method to reduce snow accumulation on the roof. It has periodically turned up the heat inside the insulated dome, which usually is kept at around 50 degrees, to expedite the melting of snow and the evaporation of condensation.
Biberstein said the inside temperature was turned up Friday night in anticipation of heavy snowfall.
Once it was determined Saturday the dome could not remain inflated for safety reasons and to avoid further damage, officials conducted a controlled decompression. The crew used a backhoe to remove the heavy snow and sump pumps to take away the water that had accumulated on the tarpaulin-like fabric.
“We wanted to get everything off it before it froze. That was our biggest dilemma,” Biberstein said. “Sixty-by-60 [yards] is a lot of snow when you’re talking a foot deep.”
The work was completed Saturday before 8 p.m.
“Both the athletic facilities people and the university facilities people did a great job doing as much as they could to address the situation as quickly as possible,” James said.
The dome’s availability is especially important to the UMaine baseball and softball teams, which are returning from spring break competition and will be relegated to inside practice for two or three more weeks until the fields dry out.
In the meantime, they will practice in the field house.
The Mahaney Dome was made possible by a $1 million donation from Kevin Mahaney on behalf of his father, the late Larry Mahaney, a longtime benefactor of UMaine athletics. The facility, which includes FieldTurf artificial grass, is the indoor practice home for several Black Bear sports teams.
Most recently, the baseball, softball, football and soccer teams have shared the building to practice without dealing with the winter weather.
Biberstein pointed out the dome also is utilized approximately 20 hours per week by UMaine campus recreation programs and is rented out for occasional use by other teams and organizations in the area.
“It has been a tremendous asset not just to athletics but the whole campus community,” Biberstein said. “We’ve been really lucky to have it.”