The University of Maine System Board of Trustees has approved up to $14 million in upgrades to UMaine’s athletic facilities at the Orono campus.
The approval kicks off construction of new softball, field hockey and softball fields to begin this spring, barring complications from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that could delay construction.
The money comes from the Harold Alfond Foundation’s $90 million donation for facility upgrades as well as additional fundraising by the university, according to UMaine athletic director Ken Ralph.
He said the upgrades will include new synthetic surfaces for all three pitches, new lights, team areas, fencing and bleachers. It does not include changing rooms.
The field hockey and softball fields will be built in their current location, but the soccer field will be built where the old turf soccer field was next to Alfond Stadium and the Morse field of the soccer team .
The women’s soccer team played on Mahaney Diamond.
Field hockey field lights will be replaced and the softball field will be lit for the first time.
All lights will be state-of-the-art Musco Sports lights, Ralph said, to extend the playing season.
Ralph acknowledged that there will likely be supply chain issues and the biggest one will be the bleacher seats.
“The lead time for bleachers is important, so we have to get out ahead of that and order them real soon. We’re working with the [UMaine System’s] procurement office because we need to get those construction documents moving very quickly so that we can inspect them appropriately and place those orders,” he said.
“The descent times from the surfaces are a little more reasonable. We are quite confident that we can get them in the appropriate time frame. We want to play on it this fall,” Ralph said.
The construction of the three fields will take place simultaneously.
“The hardest thing is field hockey because you have to do it when they start training [in August]. They have no other place to practice. Football could still practice on Mahaney Diamond and softball is a spring sport,” he said.
Ralph said he was “really pleased” that UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Chancellor Dannel Malloy and the Board have moved the plans forward.
“It’s great for everyone. It’s been long overdue. What this does for gender equity within our department by giving three women’s programs that have been underserved for some time facilities that will be top of the league, is a very big step forward for the ‘University of Maine and the State of Maine, quite frankly,’ he said.
“I just hope we don’t have supply chain issues that are holding us back. Then you still have issues with things like skilled labor [availability] and we also monitor inflation. Inflation can impact what projects can handle, so we’re keeping an eye on that as well,” Ralph said.
UMaine has hired architectural firms WBRC Architects/Engineers of Bangor and Crawford Architects LLC of Kansas City, Missouri.
“We’re going to put everything in competition,” Ralph said. “We are a few weeks away from the ordering phase.”
He said he was excited to work with the Maine Principals Association to land regional and state championships on the new grounds as well.
“We want to bring people to our campus,” Ralph said.
Next on the agenda will be renovations to Alfond Arena and exploring a new multi-purpose center on campus where basketball teams can play.
The men’s and women’s basketball teams train at Memorial Gym on campus and play virtually all of their games at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“We just started looking at the designs there,” Ralph said. “We want to figure out what we want in the structure itself.”