Parents are downright giddy. The kids are smiling, too.

The rise of the Savage Sports Dome means the long hauls to Rosemount, Woodbury, even Faribault, so local kids can play wintertime soccer, lacrosse, baseball or football, are history.

Roundtrip drive times for many families that once measured in hours will shrink to 5 to 10 minutes.

"I think it is unbelievably awesome. I think it's spectacular," said Dan Gratz, father of four and president of Prior Lake Athletics for Youth, or PLAY.

The city of Savage opened its new inflatable dome on Nov. 1.

It has 108,000 square feet of space, including three athletic fields, three batting cages and a golf cage. An accompanying 5,000-square-foot building includes restrooms, concessions, a lobby and space to store the inflatable dome during the warm-weather months. The turf fields -- without the dome -- will be used during the summer months.

It isn't just for kids. The dome, located in Community Park, 13500 Dakota Av., will be open from 7 to 9 a.m. each weekday free of charge for walkers and runners. It's an estimated 3 1/2 laps around the dome's perimeter per mile, according to dome staff.

Temperatures in the dome will range from 52 to 58 degrees, but the city is still figuring out all the details.

City and dome officials also hope adult athletic leagues will rent some time, but it was youth athletic groups that championed the dome's construction. It cost the city of Savage $4.93 million to build.

"People are very excited. We have been working on the project for three years," said City Administrator Barry Stock. "We hope the revenue generated from leasing the field time will cover the operating cost and debt service."

Stock and the sports dome's manager said most of the prime-time slots -- weekdays from 5 to 10 p.m. -- are already filled. The city is charging $150 an hour per field during prime time.

PLAY has already booked 210 hours in the next six months, said Randy Geister, the group's administrative director. Nearly 5,000 children in grades K-8 participate in the eight sports offered by PLAY.

Having a sports dome a few minutes from home will change family routines for the better, Geister said.

Long commutes meant families ate dinner on the run, squeezed in homework and then spent an hour or two in the car, often on a school night. Parents, unable to go home during practice, then spent an hour either riding the bleachers or ambling around whatever stores were nearby.

PLAY hopes to expand its offerings for younger children at the new dome, Gratz said.

"I am the most excited for the K-3 kids who are not involved in a traveling sport," Gratz said. "We are going to open some fun nights with relay races, kickball, tee ball, ultimate football -- the stuff we all used to do as kids that we just don't do anymore."

Brian Flakne, former commissioner for the Burnsville Fire Soccer Club, remembers when he first pitched the idea of a sports dome to the Savage City Council.

He estimated his odds at slim to none, but he said he was happily surprised at the council's receptiveness. They realized that young families who have settled in their city wanted this type of facility.

The dome project has had its share of critics. There were those who thought the project was too pricey, those concerned about annual operating costs and upkeep, and some neighbors who didn't like the dome in their back yards.

Flakne said he endured some personal attacks during the process. But he said the dome is an asset to the community and is an "economic engine" drawing people to Savage.

"We are very proud of the hardworking public servants we have in Savage," Flakne said. "I can't sing their praises high enough. It's really a pleasure to work with a council and mayor that get it."

Shannon Prather is a Twin Cities freelance writer.