History of the Mini-Dome – Whitney Fenwick

The iconic Holt Arena, more lovingly known to past generations as the Mini Dome, is the source of much delight for Pocatello residents and Idaho State University family alike. The time was ripe with progress both on the national level, with the first moon landing in 1969 and, on a more local scale, with the first collegiate covered dome under construction. Idaho State University was officially on the map for a one of a kind sports arena. The arena was not met with all praise however, with Larry Hovey of the Twin Falls Times News writing, “But we are now prepared to discuss what we consider to be one of the silliest situations that’s hit the area in a long time. Whoever came up with the idea can claim the idiot of the year award.” Hovey would eat his words when the project exceeded expectations and took the region into a new era. Milton W. “Dubby” Holt later fired back saying, “I wondered if he hadn’t been sitting at too many track meets with his bald head exposed to the sun.”

The strain of construction from a building of this magnitude was at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts. The structure itself was too massive to put in place of the existing Spud Bowl. Parking needed to be addressed, as well as soil conditions. Eventually the airfield was selected as the ground for the arena. With heated arguments over the locational choice, Davis, Holt, Bartz, and newly hired ISU Engineer John Kobris, broke ground with golden shovels before the design was even complete. Not long after ground breaking Korbis spoke with the Department of Public Works about the Project. Not only was the Department skeptical about the project, they were so taken back that they completely walked away from the project. They gave Kobris “deputy public works status” and left him alone to sink or swim. Kobris then realized the project would live or die on his shoulders. John acted then as the “contractor and coordinator” for the project.
With every new build comes a price tag however, and the funding had to come from somewhere. Initial estimates came in at roughly $2.8 million dollars; compared to the roughly $50 million-dollar astrodome that seemed a bargain. The state board of education, and the state building fund were in no market to provide millions of dollars to an experimental development which meant funding was required to be raised by the student body. In an interview with John Korbis, it was said that the ASISU student body encouraged the students to support the venture and that, “They passed the resolution to pay for the sum, 60 percent in favor and 40 percent against.” Korbis later went on to say, “Here we were…we needed 2,000 parking spaces, furnishings, the shell, footings, etc. which was probably going to cost us $2.5 million. We have $300,000 for everything else.”
When all was said and done, the project cost $3.3 million dollars and was completed in 1970. The roof alone covers 4.5 acres of surface area and the turfs measures in at a massive 73,000 square feet. In an article from the Idaho State Journal on May 9, 1969 John Korbis said, “much of Thursday afternoon was merely experimentation, with the men testing manipulation of equipment and methods of erecting the arches, full length of the arches is about 470 feet.” Following suit with how the project started John new the vision, but he nor the labor force knew exactly how construction would play out, but trial by error was not something the crew feared.

What made this project special was not being the first of its kind for a college, nor was it the sheer engineering marvel. It came from that good old Bengal spirit and never say no attitude. The dome brought revenue that the spud bowl could not. Icy cold Idaho winters prevented football games in the Spud bowl except for limited seasons. Concerts, rodeos, basketball, track, fairs, car shows, and monster truck rallies are just a few events housed beneath the dome. Notable concerts included Journey, Foreigner, White Snakes, Van Halen, ZZ Top, Bob Dylan and Guess Who according to locals. The venue is now the field in which the Bengal Football team brings victories and farewells take place as graduating students pay their finale adieu at commencement on the turf.

-Whitney Fenwick

Works Cited
“It’s Engineering Feat Getting Six Arches In Place on Minidome.” Idaho State Journal (Pocatello), May 9, 1969.
Olson, Diane. Idaho State University: A Centennial Chronicle. Pocatello, ID: Idaho State University, 1999.
Jordan, Eniko. “Point Man behind Holt Arena: Former ISU Campus Engineer Played Key Role.” Idaho State Journal (Pocatello), October 3, 2013.