The planned UMaine Multipurpose Center will become the new home for the men’s and women’s basketball programs. It will include a court and seating for roughly 3,000 fans, locker rooms, offices, the Bear Necessities Fan Shop and a new sports medicine center. University of Maine rendering

The University of Maine unveiled details Wednesday of a $110 million project to upgrade athletic facilities at its Orono campus that will include a new basketball facility and enhancements to the football stadium and hockey arena over the next decade.

Administrators and coaches believe the ambitious project, which also addresses gender equity issues, will provide a boost to the school’s recruiting efforts as outdated or inadequate facilities are replaced.

“This is truly an historic day for Black Bear Nation,” said UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy at a news conference. “We are all smiling. I know you can’t tell behind the masks we’re wearing, but we are all smiling.

“Tomorrow will be a brighter and better day for everybody in our community and in our state. As part of this commitment we are absolutely looking to pursue gender equity and inclusive excellence with this project.”

The project is fueled primarily by a $90 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation. Announced in October, it is part of a $240 million donation from the Alfond Foundation to the UMaine system over 10 to 12 years. The $90 million gift is the largest single contribution for athletics at a public college in New England and is among the largest gifts ever nationwide, the university says.

“For many years our athletes have been performing in outdated and even crumbling, cramped facilities,” UMaine Athletic Director Ken Ralph said. “Thanks to the generosity of the Alfond Foundation and support from university leadership, we will be able to provide the quality of facilities necessary for our Black Bears to compete on a national level.

“We are also using this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to equity and to show our dedication to making Orono the go-to destination for sports in Maine for athletes of all ages. Our students, our fans, and the local community have waited a long time for these improvements, and we are excited to get started.”

The women’s soccer, field hockey and softball programs will receive new turf fields. The plan also includes renovations to Memorial Gymnasium (including improvements of Wallace Pool), the construction of an indoor facility named the Speed Dome that will include a 100-yard artificial turf field and a 300-meter track, and upgrades to Mahaney Diamond, home to the baseball team.

UMaine plans for construction of a 100,000-plus square-foot domed facility called the Speed Dome. It will include a 100-yard artificial turf field and a 300-meter track. University of Maine rendering

Other enhancements include:

• Renovations to Alfond Stadium, home to the football team, including a new artificial surface on Morse Field. The existing track will be removed and bleachers will be moved closer to the field.

• Upgrades to Alfond Arena, home to the school’s ice hockey teams, including an enlarged entryway and concourse and installation of high definition video and ribbon boards, and the expansion of the Shawn Walsh Hockey Center, including new locker rooms for the men’s and women’s ice hockey teams and a new strength and conditioning center.

• Construction of the UMaine Multipurpose Center, which will become the new home for the men’s and women’s basketball programs. It will include a playing court, locker rooms, offices, the Bear Necessities Fan Shop and a new sports medicine center. It also will include football locker rooms and coaches offices, as well as a new strength and conditioning center.

• Construction of a second domed facility, which will have 60 percent more space than the current one on campus.

All 17 varsity sports programs at UMaine will benefit from the upgrades. And UMaine coaches know exactly what this project will mean for their programs.

The UMaine’s women’s soccer program will get its own facility with a regulation-size turf field. The team has been playing its games on a smaller-sized field in the outfield of the baseball diamond. University of Maine athletics

“It’s huge,” said women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon, whose team has played at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor in recent years  and this year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, is playing at The Pit in Memorial Gym. “We don’t win recruits because of facilities. I’d like to think that (facilities are) not the reason kids pick their schools. But I can tell you, (facilities) are the reason that kids cross you off the list quickly.”

Women’s soccer coach Scott Atherley, whose team plays on the outfield turf of the baseball diamond on a field that is shorter than regulation dimensions, called the project transformational, affecting everything from recruiting to scheduling to community involvement.

Once the announcement was made, Atherley immediately sent text messages to all his recruits.

“It’s such an uplifting feeling, to be able to share that news,” he said. “Today, things became tangible. This is something that’s been talked about. We’ve been close before, we’ve had artist’s renderings. Today it’s real and we couldn’t wait to get that news out.”

The UMaine athletic department will raise the remaining $20 million for the project over the next 10 years through private donations. Seth Woodcock, the associate athletic director for development at UMaine who will oversee the campaign, said they hope to raise even more than the $20 million needed to match the Alfond Foundation’s gift.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said, noting the capital campaign entered full swing with the announcement. “The more money we raise the more we can do. The plan released today is going to get done, there’s no question about that. But if we’re smart, there are other pieces we can even make better.”

Gender equity is a significant part of the $110 million project. The women’s softball, field hockey and soccer teams will be playing on new turf fields. University of Maine rendering

Ralph, the athletic director, said that because of the Alfond Foundation gift, the university will not be left with the debt that other colleges face after constructing new facilities.

“There’s definitely an arms race in Division I when it comes to facilities but, quite frankly, we didn’t want to participate in it,” he said. “I think you end up saddling schools with debt they can’t manage.”

That’s why UMaine has chosen smaller, more intimate facilities. The soccer and field hockey stadiums will share a grandstand – one side facing the soccer field, the other the field hockey field, both under a shared roof –and the UMaine Multipurpose Center will seat around 3,000.

“We’re looking at these facilities and when we’re done we don’t want to be holding any debt,” Ralph said. “But they are clearly Division I caliber and are also sized appropriately for our community and our campus size and our needs. Everyone assumes bigger is better. We’d rather a high-quality facility that is simple and elegant and easy to maintain and something that’s going to look great for the next 25 years.”

Ralph said the project will begin next summer with upgrades to some of the existing facilities, including the replacement of the turf field at the football stadium, with construction on the three new fields beginning in the summer of 2022. The new fields, all in new locations, are badly needed in terms of  gender equity.

The women’s soccer team has been playing on the outfield turf of Mahaney Diamond with no seating for fans; the softball team plays on a dirt and grass field with limited seating capacity (950); the turf on the field hockey field needs to be replaced and there is no space for fans there either.

Ralph said that because the new turf fields are being built in new locations, located beyond right field at Mahaney Diamond, no team will be displaced during construction.

“Once we move into the new fields, that will open space for the Speed Dome,” said Ralph. “We should not be displacing any sport at any time.”

He did not know when construction would begin on the new home for the basketball teams, but added it would be a 16-month project once it started. Those teams will continue to play at the Cross Insurance Center until then.

Ralph hopes to hold America East Conference tournaments on campus and that the facilities will be used by club sports teams and high school athletes.

“We want all those students coming here to start thinking about the University of Maine for their college decision,” he said. “We want them to sell them UMaine T-shirts, to buy a hockey ticket, we want them to feel like a Black Bear before they even graduate from high school.”

There had been discussions about replacing Alfond Arena, the iconic ice hockey arena that opened in 1977 with funding from Harold Alfond. But head coach Red Gendron said the mentioned upgrades – new locker rooms and training center and larger concourse – will go a long way toward giving the building new life and attracting top recruits to Orono.

“All those kinds of things are going to transform the old girl,” Gendron said of Alfond Arena. “That will have enormous benefits in recruiting. An improved weight room and world-class locker room, all of that stuff matters to kids today in recruiting. A lot of our competitors have those things.

“All of these things are transformational for our program.”

While the project does not include plans for an outdoor track, Ralph said the new 300-meter track in the Speed Dome will provide a unique opportunity for track athletes at the university and the state. Besides, he said, the team is usually unable to practice now, or hold meets, on its outdoor track at Alfond Stadium because of weather issues.

“This will be a better facility than an outdoor track,” he said. “It allows us to engage the community at a higher level. … It will be very unique to Maine and a way for us to stand out.”

Athlerley, who has been the women’s soccer coach for 20 years, said over the years he has met recruits at the campus Rec Center rather than at his office or on the field.

“Our Rec Center has that ‘wow’ factor,” he said. “It has that level of impact. Conversely, I would never bring a recruit to our field unless they were attending one of our games. … Now we have the ability to meet our recruits on our field. Our facility will have that ‘wow’ factor.”

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