Indoor training facility a new tool for Rice athletes, campus community

(Video by Brandon Martin)

The newest structure at Rice is unlike any other on campus.

The 80,000-square-foot, air-supported Robert L. Waltrip Indoor Training Center was inflated June 19 on the west side of Rice Stadium. The bubblelike multipurpose facility will offer climate-protected space for varsity athletics training, campus recreation, Rice events and community activities.

Service Corporation International founder and chairman emeritus Robert L. Waltrip ’53 provided the lead gift for the facility.

“I am grateful to be in the position to support this facility, which will have such a positive impact for student athletes and the entire Rice community,” Waltrip said in May 2019 after the Rice Board of Trustees approved the project. “My connection to Rice began when I was young and my father would take me to football games at the old Rice Field. That connection stayed with me through my college years and into my adulthood. This is my hometown school and I will always be proud to be a Rice Owl.”

On the intercollegiate sports front, Director of Athletics Joe Karlgaard said the facility will make Rice student athletes’ schedules more predictable and manageable.

“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,” he said as the structure was being inflated for the first time. “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.”

The anticipation is high among other students as well, Karlgaard said.

“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,” he said. “So I really do think this is going to be a great asset for the campus.”

The project faced some logistical hurdles before springing to life.

“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,” Karlgaard said. “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.”

To view a time-lapse video of the facility rising, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dz-Zzl0yQXo.

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About Matt Wilson

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