Around 3 p.m. June 29, Josh Anderson noticed that the sky was looking dark. He thought it might rain, so he left his office at The Plex South, went out to the parking lot and rolled up his truck windows.
That’s when he noticed that the sky over The Plex’s main dome was, as he puts it, “really, really dark.”
Walking back into the facility’s mini-dome – actually a space about the size of a football field covered by a white fabric dome 35 feet high – he saw the emergency lights were on and the material swishing back and forth “like a wind sock.”
He yelled for the 15 people inside to get into the bathrooms – in a part of the facility surrounded by actual walls – and then, about five minutes later, the east end of the dome came down like a giant deflated balloon.
Which, in fact, it was, Anderson says, because both of the domes at the indoor recreation complex along Engle Road are held up by little more than pressurized air created by a pump-and-fan system.
“If it took down big trees,” says Anderson of the devastating windstorm meteorologists later classified as a derecho, “you can imagine what it did to the dome.”
Now, after about six months of repair, reconfiguring and refurbishing, the Plex’s mini-dome is back in shape – just in time, its operators say, for the heart of the winter recreation season.
And Anderson, director of the mini-dome, is still marveling at how the staff and an assortment of contractors were able to get things back under control after facing a giant mass of “roof” on the ground filled with water from the storm.
“It was a ton of water. We had to pump the water out because it was raining and raining,” Anderson says. Part of the dome landed on a large rock pile that is part of the landscape of an indoor miniature golf course. The batting cages, normally in the dome, “were outside it,” he says.
Indeed, the set-up for the batting cages led to part of the destruction. The area had a backdrop that looked like a baseball field that was held up with metal poles.
When the wind – a gust of 91 mph was reported at nearby Fort Wayne International Airport – came over the facility’s main dome from the northwest, the air apparently slammed down on the smaller dome. The poles punctured the dome material and ripped it from side to side.
Large, heat-welded patches are now visible on the dome in several areas, and all the material had to be scrubbed. “It was like two months before we finally got it inflated,” Anderson says. “It was a lot of complex and tedious work.”
Also redone: the shed-like area for the pitching machines, hanging nets that contain balls that are hit, lights throughout the facility, the floor and the welcome desk kiosk.
New game machines – including an air hockey table – are being installed, and Anderson says the facility will soon have an area where patrons can redeem won tokens for prizes.
Although the mini-dome was open for some functions in November and December, the facility is just now getting up to speed and a reopening celebration is being planned for early this year.
Anderson says he is thankful that the large dome – which contains three soccer fields that can be combined into one large one and is used for leagues and classes for all ages – stood up to the challenge.
As it was, people inside the “little dome,” as he calls it, “were pretty scared. They saw the lights moving and heard rain hitting the dome, but there’s no windows in there,” Anderson says. “So they couldn’t see what was happening outside.”
But the safety precautions, which have been reinstalled, worked, and fortunately no one was hurt by the pounds and pounds of tarp-like fabric that came down, he says.
“Now we just have to get people to know the dome is back up,” Anderson says. “A lot of people may not know and still think it’s down.”