September 17 – When it comes to upgrading the University of Maine’s athletic facilities, Ken Ralph wants to get to work.
Morse Field, home of the football team, was the first beneficiary with a new artificial turf surface replacing the old obsolete and deteriorating surface.
Today, Ralph, UMaine’s sports director, said the school has reduced the number of architectural firms that will design the project to eight, and that it hopes to have “the one” selected as soon as possible.
The improvements were made possible by a $ 90 million donation from the Harold Alfond Foundation which will ultimately improve the grounds and facilities for 17 varsity sports. The university is in the process of raising an additional $ 20 million.
The chosen company will provide the university with a master plan for the entire project and hire contractors to start the project, Ralph said.
“We don’t want a plan for one field and wait until that is done before we design the plan for the next field,” Ralph said. “We don’t want a project to take 16 months when it could have been done in four. The Alfond donation will be spread over 10 years but we do not want it to take 10 years to do everything.
A field for the women’s soccer team remains at the top of the list.
The women have been playing on the Mahaney Diamond baseball field since 2015 in order to use a synthetic turf surface comparable to the surfaces of their opponents in America East. Previously, they had played on Alumni Field, a grass field with poor drainage.
“It’s not fair to them. They deserve their own domain,” Ralph said, noting that the arrangement had always irritated him.
New softball and field hockey fields will be among the next projects. Ralph said the school intended to embark on smaller projects as well.
Ralph said they intend to be progressive in their “adaptive reuse of space” by finding new ways to use old spaces that become available as a result of upgrades.
“The University of West Virginia built a beautiful new pool and turned the old pool into a strength and conditioning center,” he said.
The original master plan has been changed, Ralph said, based on feedback the school received when it was first posted.
“We want our facilities to be as good if not better than those in Eastern America. That’s our goal,” he said.
Ralph hopes to have the new master plan in place this winter.
He said the university would announce some developments in its fundraising efforts soon.
Other planned upgrades at UMaine include a 2,500-3,000 seat basketball facility on campus so teams don’t have to play at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, a stand-alone outdoor track and a domed training ground to replace the Mahaney Dome, and the refurbishment of the 45-year-old Alfond arena.