The ambitious new Air Dome facility at the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence in Bekan is on-course to be open and operational by September. Work is almost complete on the project, which will be the biggest indoor playing facility of its kind in Europe, with the inflation of the dome itself the only major step yet to be taken.
John Prenty, Connacht Council secretary and Cathal Cregg, Roscommon senior footballer and Connacht GAA Games Manager, offered an update on the progress of the dome last night (Thursday).
Cregg said that while elite athletes will have access to everything they need for their own training at the facility, the Air Dome and the wider Bekan campus remains very much a community-orientated project, with resources in place to cater for club, school and county teams at all levels.
30,000 tons of stone has gone down in the foundations of the new facility. The full-sized all-weather astro-turf pitch has been laid and work has begun on the erection of the dome itself. It is anticipated that the dome will be completed by late-September. The dome, when completed, will be over 150 metres long and nearly 100 metres wide at its base and will rise to a height of 26 metres.
It will stand six stories high, with a playing surface equal in size to MacHale Park in Castlebar. The facility will also include a gym, a running track and spectator space and will be adaptable into a fully-functional conference or concert facility in the space of 72 hours. It is anticipated that games will be played in the facility from late-October.
The overall cost of the project is approximately €3.1million, €2.1m of which was obtained via a grant from the Department of Rural and Community Affairs. Nearly €700,000 was given by Croke Park under its grant scheme for regional infrastructure projects and the remainder of the money has been raised internally by Connacht GAA via fundraisers and private backers. It will bring the total investment in the Centre of Excellence since its opening in 2010 to approximately €13million, with Prenty noting that that entire sum has been raised without any recourse to borrowing.
Prenty added that the Connacht Council remains on the hunt for commercial partners in order to ‘future-proof’ the Centre of Excellence going forward. The provincial council has generated sponsorship packages for potential investors, primarily in terms of naming rights on the campus.