When it comes to modernizing the University of Maine’s athletic facilities, Ken Ralph wants to get to work.
Morse Field, home of the football team, was the first to benefit with a new artificial turf surface replacing the old, outdated and deteriorated surface.
Now Ralph, UMaine’s athletic director, says the school has narrowed the number of architectural firms that will design the project to eight, and hopes “this one” will be selected as soon as possible. .
The improvements were made possible by a $90 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation which will ultimately improve the fields and facilities for all 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 begin the project, Ralph said.
“We don’t want a plan for one field and wait for that to be done before designing 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 don’t want it to take 10 years to do everything.
A field for the women’s football team remains at the top of the list.
The women have been playing at the baseball field, Mahaney Diamond, since 2015 in order to use an artificial turf surface comparable to the surfaces of their East America opponents. Previously, they had played on Alumni Field, a poorly drained grass pitch.
“It’s not fair to them. They deserve their own turf,” Ralph said, noting that the arrangement has always irritated him.
New softball and field hockey fields will be part of the next projects. Ralph said the school also plans to get into smaller projects.
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.
“West Virginia University built a beautiful new pool and they turned the old pool into a strength and conditioning facility,” he said.
The original master plan has been modified, Ralph said, based on feedback the school received when it was first published.
“We want our facilities to be as good if not better than any in East America. This is our goal,” he said.
Ralph hopes to have the new master plan in place this winter.
He said the university will soon announce developments in its fundraising efforts.
Other planned improvements 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 free-standing outdoor track, and a basketball court. domed training to replace the Mahaney Dome, and the renovation of the 45-year-old Alfond Arena.