New multipurpose facility bubbles up outside Rice Stadium


New multipurpose facility bubbles up outside Rice Stadium(Photos by Tommy LaVergne)

The new 80,000-square-foot, air-supported Robert L. Waltrip Indoor Training Center was inflated June 19 on the west side of Rice Stadium.

The multipurpose facility will offer climate-protected space for varsity athletics training, campus recreation, Rice events and community activities.

Rice manager of videography Brandon Martin caught up with Director of Athletics Joe Karlgaard as the inflation was underway.

JK: This is something we’ve been after for a couple of years. It’s taken some time to get it done. But today, we’re finally inflating the the Waltrip Indoor Training Facility and very excited about what it will provide, not just for our student athletes, but for the entire Rice student body and our campus as well.

BM: What does this do for an athletics program?

JK: Well, I think it’s really important in parts of the country where you have extreme weather as we do here in Houston, where it gets very hot and we have thunderstorms typically in the fall, and it’s difficult to have practice when you’ve got those elements working against you. So for us to have this on our campus where our student athletes can access it, you know, in an emergency situation or schedule a practice there, is really beneficial. And I think it helps keep the “student” in “student athlete” as well, because we don’t have to alter practice times as a result and our students can get to their studies, get to their tutoring sessions and get to their classes on time. … One of our goals is to put all the tools in the hands of our coaches and student athletes so they can reach their full potential, and I think this is another step forward in doing just that.

BM: It’s an interesting design process and construction process. … Walk me through what it’s taken to inflate this thing.

JK: By and large, these projects are turnkey in nature. But the fact that we’re putting it in a parking lot meant that we had to concern ourselves with flood plain, we had to worry about electricity to the facility. We wanted to put it in a spot where our teams had easy access to it either via the the campus circular or our other facilities. And so, you know, it was maybe a little more complicated than some of the other facilities that Arizon (Building Systems) does, but in this case, I think it was well worth it.

BM: What have the players and coaches been saying about the indoor training facility?

JK: They’re, I think, just very excited to know that once we get a practice schedule in place, that we’ll be able to execute on that schedule and that we won’t have to put our players on buses to go down to the (Houston) Texans facility, or in the case of our soccer team use the east gym to do walkthroughs. This will allow us to have full practices on schedule, on time, throughout the year for all our programs. And then, you know, I’ve sensed the excitement of Rice club soccer, our rugby program; I know intramurals and club sports in general are really excited about it. So I really do think this is going to be a great asset for the campus.

To view a time-lapse video of the facility rising, visit

About Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is a senior editor in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.