NAU football kicks off 2011 season in remodeled Skydome

It looks like the NAU football team will be able to host it first home game next month in the friendly confines of the Skydome, just as it has for the last 40 years.

But when the Fort Lewis College Skyhawks arrive from Colorado for the Sept. 10 contest, they will find their accommodations more inviting.  The visitors locker room in the Northern Arizona University on-campus dome has been upgraded as part of the $26.5 million renovation project that was started right after the 2010 season ended.

At the time the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome was constructed in 1977, it was the largest clear-span timber dome in the world and one of the most architecturally-unique indoor sports facilities in the country.  But fire and safety codes have changed through the years and the building needs to meet the latest safety and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Association) requirements.

But the project has gone beyond those issues.  And, as it turns out, the upgraded facility offers something for everyone.

For the players, it means modernized, expanded locker rooms – with air conditioning for the first time ever!  The training rooms and weight facility were also relocated and improved.

For the coaches and athletic department staff,  it means new, upgraded offices.  And the upgraded facilities overall will provide an additional sales tool when prospective recruits arrive for their campus visits.

The fans will find a more enjoyable experience while attending games because they will be getting an enhanced viewing experience, as well as more comfortable seating.

Instead of the old narrow bench seats without backs, the new seating will be wider and include back support.  It meant cutting the capacity somewhat, from 14,000 in the old seating format to 10,000 new seats, but that should still accommodate most crowds.

For the high schools, it will mean an additional site to consider for holding tournaments (which brings potential recruits to the Flagstaff campus).

Those covering the games for the media even get included in the perks.  A new press box has been installed, with an elevator so the news types don’t have to climb up those narrow steps any more.

And even the basketball coaches may eventually get something out of this project.  While the men’s and women’s teams are currently playing in the Rolle Activity Center, new offices for the coaches have been included in case the teams switch to playing in the dome.

University officials say that about 80 percent of the entire project is being funded by money from the Arizona Lottery, with the school picking up the remainder.  It’s part of a program called the Stimulus Plan for Economic and Educational Development.

Oh, one other part of the program that we all can appreciate… the old bathrooms are being replaced with newer, larger ones.

Like we said, this project really does have something for everyone.