East side dome aims to answer a sports dream

Tom Gage
The Detroit News

Detroit — The past of Detroit's east side again will encounter its future when a new soccer dome replaces a 1918 elementary school.

The Frederick A. Hanstein school at Marseilles and Mack will be demolished. In its place will be the Mack Athletic Complex, featuring a 40,000-square-foot indoor soccer facility and a high-performance, multi-purpose training center.

It's all part of a dream for businessman Paul Fayad and his partners, who identified a need not just for the dome, but for the shared involvement of city and suburban athletes.

"This isn't being done for it to be a Grosse Pointe facility, but for the entire east side that hasn't had anything like it," Fayad said of the dome, home of the Grosse Pointe Soccer Association.

For the project to become reality, however, the Hanstein school must first come down.

Constructed in 1918, but vacant since 2012, the brick building was named for a Union corporal from the area, who fought with the Iron Brigade at Gettysburg and in several other Civil War battles.

To this day, the school retains the look of being state of the art in its day.

One also can envision it meaning a lot to the generations of students who passed through its corridors as well as to its dedicated former principal Bernadine Carroll, whose last tour of the property can be found on YouTube.

Even now, there's a sign out front saying "Mrs. Pugh's garden" — an area dedicated to one of the school's late service attendants.

But in a matter of weeks, Hanstein Elementary will be torn down, not because it's become an exterior eyesore, which it hasn't. And not because someone has a vague set of plans for the land on which it stands. There is nothing vague about what is going to replace it.

More than just a soccer dome, the covered facility will be constructed with a second use in mind — a driving range during hours when soccer isn't scheduled. It also will have batting cages.

But the training center will be a major draw as well.

In addition to hockey

Admitting it wasn't easy to finalize a location that could include all aspects of the complex — "Don't get me started on that," Fayad said — the group not only found one it could afford, but where the work could be completed by August.

Including the cost of demolishing the school, the renovation of a Detroit Public School administration building and the construction of the dome, it is a $1.1 million project.

Along with the $2.5 million the East Side Hockey Foundation — of which Fayad also is an integral part — is putting into the renovation of the nearby Grosse Pointe Community Ice Rink in an attempt to re-invigorate youth hockey, the two projects represent not just a substantial financial investment, but one of time and multi-dimensional commitment as well.

"We're not doing either of these projects to make money," Fayad said. "This is an effort to involve as many athletes as we can. Beyond breaking even, we'll put all the revenue back into the sports themselves."

On the hockey front, it's already working. From a low of just 12 participants in the mite (8 and under) program — down from the hundreds who used to be registered during the heyday of the 1990s — the number of those now involved has risen to 150.

"The expense of the sport itself did a lot of damage to youth hockey," said Don Jaeger of Grosse Pointe Farms, who works with Fayad on both projects. "But we get kids started now by giving them the equipment they need."

The non-profit ESHF provides it, hockey bag included, which translates into higher registration numbers — including girls.

"The girls program is one of the fastest growing," Fayad said.

The community rink has been a long-standing edifice, of course. It shows its age, but won't after the renovation.

It's the soccer dome that will be new, not to mention the training facility that will occupy much of the 9,000 square feet of the old DPS administration building.

While the Hanstein school has been greatly damaged during its vacancy, the administration building wasn't, so the changeover to its new specialized purpose won't be as difficult.

Suffice to say that prolotherapy, KMI structural integration and the identification of muscular imbalances, all of which the training facility will feature, were not part of the building's former life.

August is target

The dome will be the most clearly visible part of the project, though.

But because the technology of dome roofs has changed substantially over the years — since the Pontiac Silverdome was constructed, for instance — "it was quite a learning process," Jaeger said.

The end result, as the MAC website states, will be a "40,000-plus square feet, clear span dome."

Clear span doesn't translate into being see-thru, however. The material being used is opaque, allowing for abundant light.

The batting cages will be installed at one end — and the field can be turned into a driving range when not being used for soccer.

But the realization of the dream isn't in the distant future.

"August," Fayad repeated of the project that gives renewed purpose to land no longer being used — and without forgetting the namesake of the school.

"We plan on putting up a plaque that tells people who Frederick Hanstein was."

A case of the past smoothly becoming the future.