Superior Dome is one of a kind

The Superior Dome of Northern Michigan University is truly a structure to behold and appreciate. When someone first sees the inside of the Superior dome, it is usually a jaw-dropping experience. This marvelous domed sports complex opened in 1991 as the world’s largest wooden domed structure and still holds that distinction today.

It is home to the Northern Michigan Wildcats football team, and there are numerous other campus and community events that also take place in this magnificent structure.

Construction of the Superior Dome was completed in two phases. Phase one originally opened in August of 1991 and only included the domed athletic stadium structure. This first phase was completed at a cost of about $22 million. Four years later, phase two of the Superior Dome complex was completed in 1995.

Phase two represented the addition of locker rooms, NMU department offices, meeting rooms, concession areas, and a retail store, where various NMU items and apparel may be purchased. The cost of the phase two addition was approximately $2 million, so the entire complex represents an investment of about $24 million. Phase one was funded totally by the State of Michigan and phase two was funded by private donations and construction loans.

So, just how big is this structure, and what is the capacity? The Superior Dome structure is 14 stories tall, has a diameter of 536 feet and covers about 5 acres under its roof. The dome itself is constructed with a total of 781 Douglas Fir beams and about 110 miles of fir decking.

Because of our Upper Peninsula, the dome is designed to support snow weighing up to 60 pounds per square foot and to withstand winds of up to 80 miles per hour. It has a permanent seating capacity of about 8,000, although the building can hold as many as 16,000 people.

For sporting events, the dome features a retractable artificial turf carpet, the largest of its kind in the world. The turf is used for field hockey. The turf may be retracted for basketball, volleyball, tennis, or track events. Retracting the turf takes about 30 minutes, and it takes about two hours to extend the turf and set it up for football and other events.

The NMU Wildcat football team was the first to play in the Superior Dome. On Sept. 14, 1991, the NMU Football Wildcats defeated the University of Indianapolis, 31-20, in front of a crowd of 7,942. The attendance record for the Superior Dome is 8,672, set when NMU played the Michigan Tech Huskies.

The Superior Dome is also host to any number of campus and community events. It is host to many Michigan High School regular season and playoff games and high school track meets. With its 100,000 square feet of space, additional events often include trade shows, conventions, conferences, banquets and others. Other events include the Upper Peninsula Band Day competition, Special Olympics and NMU’s commencement exercises, just to name a few. It is also a great place to walk indoors during our sometimes harsh U. P. weather.

The Superior Dome is also home of the United States Olympic Education Center offices, as well as special training areas for the USOEC’s boxing, weightlifting and wrestling teams.

In the 2010 Book of World Records, our wonderful Superior Dome was listed as the fifth-largest domed structure in the world. It is also listed as the number one largest wooden domed structure in the world.

Editor’s note: Dr. Jim Surrell, author of “SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet,” has his practice at the Digestive Health Clinic at Marquette General Health System. Requests for health topics for this column are encouraged. Contact Dr. Surrell by email at