Franklin Pierce “Bubble” back in business
Giant structure was deflated in winter storm
The outside of the newly constructed FPU Bubble is thicker and more weather-resistant thanks to facility design improvements.
FPU students wasted little time in using the fitness and strength facility in the Bubble during Friday's Grand Reopening Ceremony.
RINDGE — Usually, there’s not much you can do after bursting a bubble.
Fortunately, Franklin Pierce University’s Grimshaw-Gudewicz Activity Center at Northfields, also known as the Bubble, is made of tougher stuff than your typical soap. It helps, too, that the people involved with caring for the Bubble aren’t easily deflated.
When the Bubble first came to FPU’s campus in 1995, everyone got a preview of what difficulties lay ahead: a December New England snowstorm came in, covering the skin with snow before it could be inflated. Undeterred, FPU faculty, staff and students volunteered to help clean off the Bubble so it could rise. According to FPU’s website , members of the college community cleared it off in two hours, allowing the Bubble to be erected on Dec. 15, 1995.
Over the last 18 years, the 72,000 square foot, multistory air frame structure has seem some challenges. With four incidents of vandals cutting the cloth and two occasions when heavy snow, ice and winds collapsed the bubble, once in Feb. 2001 and the other in February of this year, constant improvements have been required to maintain the facility. Looking for a structure made by a different company, new security, the addition of outdoor lights, and better heating and pressurizing of the Bubble’s skin were all measures taken in the past.
After the most recent collapse, FPU welcomed a new Bubble structure all together, the third since 1995. Though the college would probably love to have a more sturdy structure not so susceptible to weather, it is not financially feasible, according to Lisa Murray, director of University Relations & Creative Services. “It would be in the multi-millions to replace the Bubble with a permanent structure, which would require a major capital campaign,” Murray said. And though it’s not like the Bubble collapses every other day, it is unavoidable that the air frame will be impacted again at some point. “Unfortunately, it is one of those buildings that will come down no matter what,” she said.
Despite the Bubble’s less-than-solid design, FPU is doing the utmost to protect the facility from coming down again. Included in the new building is a thicker, more resilient skin, an improved heating system, a new floor, and a better design and anchoring system, pumped to a higher pressure and greater height that allows snow to slide off. All of these improvements, which were covered by insurance at an undetermined cost as of press time Monday, are meant to see the Bubble through its lifetime of 12 to 18 years, according to Doug Carty, who lives in Jaffrey and is the director of Campus Recreation. “We wanted to make sure there were no mistakes,” he said.
Proceeds from a small amount of fundraising have helped provide other new additions to the Bubble, such as nicer lobby furniture. “It doesn’t make sense to have a new skin, new floor and new design, and then have old furniture,” Carty said. “We are making enhancements to better suit the new technology.”
Other improvements, like a softer turf surface, a new multipurpose floor, a thicker basketball court floor with more give, and new equipment to meet the current fitness trends, are all included in these enhancements.
Carty has been working since February to get the Bubble up and running, a project he said he could not have done without the help of some special individuals. Jean St. Pierre, the air-frame specialist for the Bubble, was responsible for meeting with each vendor and overseeing much of the work at the Bubble. FPU’s Athletics Strength and Conditioning Coach Tim Brien helped with much of the cleanup after the February collapse, and he also created a weight room outside under a tent for interest students. Carty’s previous graduate assistant, Erika Bashaw, acted as an associate director, putting in way more hours than she was contracted for, according to Carty.
“They were all very pivotal,” he said. “The goal was to get the student body back in here as soon as possible.”
After eight months of hard work and with only a few details left to be completed, the Bubble reopened Friday as part of the Alumni Reunion festivities. Students excitedly reentered their campus facility, which, according to Carty, is just as much a social environment as it is an athletic environment. “It’s a recreation facility, which is important to clarify. The Bubble is for the entire campus community. There’s a wide scope in what students can do,” he said. “You can do an extreme workout, or you can just throw a frisbee around.”
It appears that the Bubble, which can now be enjoyed again by most at FPU, only lives on because of the college community. As Carty noted, “This project has come together with the assistance of the campus.”