What an astonishing year this has been! Among the many events and twists of this past pandemic year, the installation of the new inflatable dome at the Centre Multi-Sports du Collège Français in the fall of 2020 definitely stands out for us as an accomplishment of which we are particularly proud. Let’s take a look at the story behind this large-scale project which brought state-of-the-art sports facilities to the students of the Collège Français in the middle of an unprecedented international health crisis.
How it all began
Back in 2018, the Collège Français started planning the upgrading of their multi-sports center. For the manufacturing of the new dome, Collège Français’ general manager Alexandre Bigras contacted ASATI, the New York inflatable structure specialists that were responsible for installing the first dome in 2004. Having been in charge of maintenance and snow removal at the old dome for over 10 years, and given our fifteen years of experience in inflatable dome installation, Sollertia was approached for the erection of the new structure. “A natural choice”, says Alexandre Bigras, who points out that there are “very few specialists in the field of inflatable structures in Quebec”. This distribution of tasks between ASATI and Sollertia turned out to be a particularly clever decision, given the sudden and prolonged closure of the Canada-USA border in March 2020, just as the project received the green light. The entire project could have been seriously compromised if we had had to depend on an installation team coming in from the United States.
The work took place between September 1st and November 13th, 2020, with only a slight delay in delivery, which is nothing short of a miracle, considering the many sanitary measures we had to deal with, as well as the many delays in delivery of materials that were so common throughout the pandemic.
Dismantling the old dome and recycling materials
The first step in dismantling the old dome was to remove all the interior equipment from the multi-sports center before deflating. A call was made on social media offering pieces of the used waterproof membrane to anyone interested. Three days were solely devoted to cutting up the old membrane according to requests, thereby giving the industrial quality waterproof membrane a second life. As we are firmly committed to sustainable development, the entire project was carried out with the intention of minimizing waste production, either by actively seeking to reuse materials (doors, fans, etc.), or through recycling. Our sleeping bag project for homeless people (in collaboration with CARE Montreal) allowed us to repurpose cuttings from the tensile insulating material of the new inflatable structure, which was cut to measure on site. This not only contributed to keeping waste out of our landfills, it also allowed us to lend a hand to fellow citizens in a vulnerable position.
Laying out the membrane of the new dome
The Centre Multi-Sports du Collège Français’ new inflatable dome was delivered by truck from the ASATI factory (located in upstate New York) to the Collège site in three gigantic bundles weighing about 20,000 pounds each. Using a crane, the bundles were each placed in very specific locations for their unfolding. Once the many layers of membrane were laid out in preparation for inflation, a team of over twenty people was then coordinated and guided through a rigorous choreography of assembly.
Deployment of the membrane, inflation
Once the membranes of the dome were unfolded, the different sections were then connected in such a way as to provide a waterproof structure, and then the edges of the canvas were fixed to the walls. In order to stabilize the dome, a cable netting – a particularly sturdy technology designed by ASATI – was installed over the entire membrane and fastened to the walls. Finally, the membrane was hooked up to the ventilation units for inflation and attached to the door frames while the dome was inflating.
In January 2021, once the structure was fully inflated, all the sports equipment was returned inside the dome, ready to be used and enjoyed by the Collège students.
The new dome
Alexandre Bigras is delighted with the new dome and very happy with how the work was carried out. He is especially impressed by the “amazing teamwork” which made the construction of the new dome possible, and states that “everyone is impressed” by the new facilities, especially the students. The new dome has a skylight which bathes the interior of the new multi-sports center in natural light, a significant improvement over the old dome. In addition, the new dome is higher than the old one, a characteristic which not only offers greater clearance in these facilities specifically intended for soccer (the Collège Français offers the most important soccer sports study program in Quebec), but also reduces snow accumulation on the inflatable structure. Another special feature of the new dome is that it was built with bubble foil thermal insulation instead of mineral wool, which has the advantage of being lighter while providing an insulation rating of 12.5 R.
Inflatable domes are very light yet incredibly sturdy structures which are supported by air pressure, thus offering the possibility of completely unobstructed large interior spaces. They last approximately 25 years, are very low-maintenance and their assembly and disassembly can be done at an exceptional speed.
Today, the Centre Multi-Sports du Collège Français offers a state-of-the-art sports environment, with an indoor court of 8,174 square metres (87,984 square feet). Equipped with climate controls that allow it to be used 365 days a year, this facility offers an exceptional site for practicing various sports, as well as for day camp activities in summer.
On this project, Sollertia acted as general contractor and expert in the assembly of inflatable domes. Every step of the way, we worked in close collaboration with ASATI, a true pioneer in the field of inflatable structures, with whom we developed an exceptional working relationship. Donato Fraioli, Technical Sales and Product Development Manager at ASATI, agrees: our collaboration on this project was “a fantastic experience”! Working with ASATI has given us the chance to familiarize ourselves with their unique bias-harness cable net system which serves to anchor the membrane, a technology which is garnering great interest in our northern climates, since it offers unparalleled resistance to the elements. Sollertia will continue to be in charge of the maintenance of the dome.
Congratulations to the students and everyone involved in education!
At the tail end of this unforgettable school year, the Sollertia team would like to wish all the students and school staff a great summer holiday! Marked by great turbulences due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year will have been a very challenging one indeed, and we would like to congratulate everyone involved in education – school teams, teachers, students and parents – for getting successfully through it. Well done!