In 2007, the University of Idaho conducted a feasibility study that prompted the first discussion of an idea originally explored 48 years ago — making a space on campus for court sports. The 1969 feasibility study that led to putting a roof over the Kibbie Dome also showed the creation of a basketball pavilion that would be located on the north side of the dome. Director of Athletics Rob Spear said when the idea to add a court sports facility onto the Kibbie Dome became a discussion ten years ago, the cost was shocking, and the project was put on the backburner.
Now, with $21 million in donations, the Idaho Arena, a 4,700-seat facility that will house Vandal court sports and university events, is moving into the design phase.
In February of this year, the Idaho State Board of Education (SBOE) gave UI approval to move into the planning and design phase of the Idaho Arena.
Mike Perry, special assistant to the president, said once the university received SBOE approval, UI began an architectural and engineering search to find a firm to design and build the arena. The university sent out a request for qualifications (RFQ) in May, and the search was open to national and international architecture firms. Perry said most RFQs receive six to eight responses. The Idaho Arena received 15.
“We had firms from as far as New Haven, Connecticut to Los Angeles to groups from Vancouver, British Columbia,” Perry said. “It was a remarkably strong group of firms that applied. We cut the list down to seven, then we chose from there.”
The winner was Opsis Architecture, a firm located in Portland, Oregon.
Perry said moving forward, the architect and contractor selected for the project will produce three separate designs. Once a design is chosen, the university will begin working toward the construction process. Spear said the goal is to begin construction in April or May of 2018.
Although the price tag for such a project was too large ten years ago, Perry said the Idaho Arena developed into a feasible reality because of the material it’s going to be built out of — wood.
While receiving student body approval during the 2015-2016 academic year was one of the project’s major milestones, Perry said working the Dean of the College of Natural Resources, Kurt Pregitzer, was also a large part getting the project off of the ground.
“Kurt Pregitzer of the College of Natural Resources was able to really open up doors and connections within the wood industry for us to be able to talk to key players in Idaho,” Perry said.
The decision to encase 70,000-square-feet of the arena in wood and wood products is important to Idaho’s wood industry, Perry said, as currently, there are regulations across the country that structures made out of wood can’t be built higher than five stories.
“This comes back to some misconceptions about what you can do with wood — you know, things like wood is flammable, wood isn’t strong enough,” Perry said. “But studies show that cross-laminated timber and some of the other new designs they have for wood are actually as strong, if not stronger, than steel and concrete, and they’re as fire resistant.”
Perry said the regulation, which has already been rewritten in the state of Oregon, prevents the wood industry from growing.
“The wood industry has been thirsting for a project that shows what the capability of wood is, and here comes the Idaho Arena and our desire to build in wood, which will accomplish some of the exact things they want to showcase,” Perry said. “As some people have indicated to me, the Idaho Arena is going to be a game changer.”
The arena isn’t only a game changer for the wood industry in Idaho, but also for the university itself, Perry said, as it will provide a kind of space that hasn’t previously existed for students.
In addition, Perry said there are numerous learning opportunities for students within the College of Art and Architecture, the College of Natural Resources and the College of Engineering.
The design process in the beginning stages, and Perry said as the project progresses, students have the opportunity to observe and learn from the design and building process.
“It’s a wonderful example of an interdisciplinary effort, and the way a university ought to work when it comes together on a project like this,” Perry said.
Corrin Bond can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ CorrBond