When the barrel arch over the Kibbie ASUI Activity Center was completed, it was the largest single architectural achievement for Trus Joist Corporation of Boise, Idaho.
Its acclaim launched the company into a world-class organization, and in 1976 it received the American Society of Civil Engineers' "Outstanding Structural Engineering Achievement Award." Previous winners include the St. Lawrence Seaway, the World Trade Center and the John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Original name ideas for the Kibbie ASUI Activity Center included the “Palouse Pea Palace” and the “Hap Moody Dome.” The Associated Students of the University of Idaho agreed to raise student fees to help fund the project, and William H. Kibbie, a former student, also contributed $300,000 to the project.
“It is a university in the classic and real sense of the word…and has maintained its position throughout the years as a leading institution of higher education. The enclosing of the stadium complex should serve to support and further the program of the university in all its aspect.” - William H. Kibbie (1918-1988)
Neale Stadium was named in honor of former university president Mervin G. Neale, who served from 1930-1937.
From the 1933 Gem of the Mountains:
"In the crisis through which this state, the nation and the entire world are now passing, there is an old truth that needs emphasis as perhaps never before. It's that natural resources and beautiful scenery will not in themselves make a great state. Its greatness will depend in the long run on the kind of men and women who live within its borders - on their ability to use natural resources so as to make for a richer and better life."
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Kibbie Dome and Neale Stadium: 1936-present
By Alexiss Turner
It touts a 4.1-acre roof. Each truss holding it up weighs 23 tons. And the 400-foot arched clear span earned it a national architectural achievement award.
Campus icons are plentiful at the University of Idaho – but none are quite as prominent or well known as the Kibbie ASUI Activity Center.
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Enclosing the center was a welcome addition for Overgaard, who had spent the last two years playing on the open field first constructed in in 1971.
“As we went to our classes across campus, we would listen for the sound of the huge snow blower in November to know if we were going to practice outside in the wet or snow or inside the old Fieldhouse,” he said.
The Fieldhouse located near Memorial Gym was half the size of a football field. Practices were split between offense and defense, as both squads couldn’t fit on the field at the same time. Players used gauze to mask their faces, mouths and noses from dust.
The original feasibility study named the center phase one of a complex that also called for seating for 20,000-30,000 and a large neighboring basketball stadium.
As many projects are, the center was scaled down to its current 18,000-seat facility capable of transforming into Cowan Spectrum for basketball events. A “magic carpet” system installed in 1992 added a cushion of air to the turf's roll-out system, allowing it to be set up in two hours and removed in just a half hour.
The roll-up mechanism first installed in 1972 originally had a “flat, carpet” turf Overgaard said was nothing like the popular replacements of today. Its impenetrability gave players just as much traction in tennis shoes as they had with cleats, he said, and the surface wasn’t crowned to drive away precipitation.
“Players would wrap their forearms and knees in gauze to protect against ‘rug burns’,” he said.
An east-end office and multi-use addition including locker rooms, training rooms and a weight room was completed in 1982, so players and coaches no longer had to use facilities in Memorial Gym.
A 2004 renovation added the Norm and Becky Iverson Speed and Strength Center to double the size of the previous weight room to 7,000 square feet. Locker rooms also were expanded to more than 14,000 square feet.
The 1992 yearbook, Gem of the Mountains, noted the “ugly paint job” on the end walls of the center, a computer-generated version of the Vandal Fight Song. In 2010 and ’11, those plywood walls painted with yellow and brown dots were replaced with state-of-the-art KalWall, insulating and diffuse light-transmitting panels. Privately funded improvements to the press box and premium seating were completed at the same time. The existing turf was installed in 2007, and instead of being rolled out it's set out and removed in sections.
Before the Dome
Neale Stadium's horseshoe bowl and wooden bleachers (above) were built in 1936 in the same location of the ASUI Kibbie Activity Center (below, photo 1976).
Before graduating in 1961, Neibauer played in the center’s predecessor, Neale Stadium, a horseshoe bowl of wooden bleachers built in 1936 in the same location as the center today. About 30 rows of spectators could be seated once the weeds that grew up through the seats were trimmed.
When Neibauer first saw Neale Stadium in the fall of 1957, he thought it was a great facility. The Vandal standing in the then Pacific Coast Conference (which became the Big West Conference in 1969) was a good one, and fans knew it. Seats were filled regularly no matter the weather.
“The team was one of the shining things in athletics,” he said. “You did what you had to do, as long as you had dry socks.”
Arthur Anderson ’58, former NFL player for the Chicago Bears (’61, ’62) and Pittsburgh Steelers (’63), remembers Idaho coach Skip Stahley had a bus parked on the sidelines at one fall home game. When players weren’t in the game, they could sit in the heated bus.
A nine-lane track surrounded the field, and there were press boxes at each end - but locker rooms and showers were a short trek to Memorial Gym. Anderson said during large games a gauntlet of fans would line up marking a path from the gym to the stadium. It also was common for business owners to close up shop on game days.
The life of Neale Stadium was cut short in 1969 when part of the facility was destroyed by fire. But it had been condemned the previous year, and ideas to construct a new facility had been in the works prior.
Before it shut its doors, Neale Stadium sent several Vandals to the pros, including former Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Jerry Kramer ’58 and former Detroit Lions linebacker Wayne Walker ’58.