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Guest Column - March 2017

Sports Facilities

Game Changer
Advancements in Design Boost Sports Facilities

By Jeff Williams


It seems like every couple of years now, an NFL team opens a brand new billion-dollar stadium. Major Division I universities strive to provide world-class facilities to impress recruits and enhance their athletic programs, and they typically have the fundraising clout to build whatever they want for the top revenue-producing sports.

For the rest of the athletic world, including non-revenue sports at those same universities, lower-division college athletic departments and private clubs, among many others—there are much tighter budget constraints to consider, and people are looking for creative, value-driven options.

Affordability was the key entry point for tension fabric structures to enter the sports and recreational building market years ago. But while the price may have been attractive, the fact that so many fabric buildings were pre-engineered often required users to compromise on their ideal design parameters. In other words, round pegs were frequently being forced into square holes.

A lot has changed as the evolution of fabric building technology has ushered in a critical, yet seemingly simple, development—conventional I-beam construction. This rigid-frame engineering concept makes it possible for users to get the benefits of fabric membrane cladding while enjoying the structural flexibility that was lacking in traditional fabric structures.

Uses Abound

I-beam design has essentially eliminated sizing limitations when planning a fabric sports facility, with clear spans of 300 feet and beyond now easily achievable. With ample room inside the structure, the possibilities for fabric buildings are virtually endless.

Professional and collegiate football and soccer teams can build indoor practice structures. Universities and private schools can construct multi-sport competition complexes for basketball, volleyball, wrestling and inline hockey. Tennis, swimming and recreational clubs can develop high-quality facilities that are truly affordable.

No matter the need for a building, it's a reality that most decisions to actually move ahead with a construction project are economically driven. In the past, this might have meant building on the cheap. Today, it's become increasingly common for customers to think bigger and longer term, and to make a real investment in something that suits not only a sports environment, but also pays financial dividends through additional uses.

Fabric Becomes Conventional

Even properly suiting the primary purpose of an athletic facility could be a challenge with traditional web truss or hoop style fabric structures. With only standard size offerings available, customers were left to shape and adjust their original requirements to make them fit the limitations of a pre-engineered building.

With the advancement of fabric buildings that implement rigid I-beam engineering, the whole process has moved light years closer to what a user would experience with conventional building methods. It's everyday construction with an architectural membrane cover.

Manufacturers who work with I-beams are able to take a site-specific approach, designing a brand-new building from the beginning to meet all applicable building codes and customer wishes. Instead of selling an off-the-shelf option, the supplier can focus on listening to the user and developing a customized solution that complies with all size, site and application requirements.

This process has obviously proven far more advantageous for developing facilities hosting athletic competitions and practices, particularly with sports where the action is not always neatly confined to the footprint of a field or court. With I-beam construction, manufacturers can precisely match every desired building dimension down to the inch. Sidewall heights, peak heights, building length and width, and additional building features can all be easily accounted for upfront.