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ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine’s field house and Memorial Gym project has received a huge boost as the result of a $5 million gift to the institution from Boston-based athletic products company New Balance.
The field house will be renamed the “New Balance Field House” and the student recreation and fitness center will be known as the “New Balance Student Recreation and Fitness Center” for a 20-year period in return for the $5 million gift.
The deal, which was approved during Monday’s meeting of the University of Maine System board of trustees, gives New Balance exclusive naming rights to both facilities for 20 years.
The $5 million gift, according to UMS vice-chancellor for finance and administration Rebecca Wyke, includes $500,000 dedicated to upkeep for the two facilities.
“This is huge for us. It is the largest corporate gift in school history,” said Maine athletic director Steve Abbott. “This is a tremendous boost for the fundraising effort for the field house and Memorial Gym [renovation].”
Abbott said the way the deal is structured, $2 million of the gift will be involved with a matching challenge for the field house.
“We will have a year to raise the $2 million to match it,” Abbott said. “And we will combine that with approximately $1 million of the $7 million appropriated by the state for the removal of hazardous material.”
He said the remaining $3 million will go to a “variety of university priorities with one of the huge ones being the Memorial Gym renovation. Some of the money will also be used for recreational sports.”
Abbott said he has dealt with New Balance executives for several years dating back to his days as the chief of staff for Sen. Susan Collins.
Three of New Balance’s five manufacturing facilities are in Maine: Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Norway. The Skowhegan and Norridgewock plants have been open since 1982 and the Norway plant opened in 1997. The other plants are in Boston and Lawrence, Mass.
New Balance produces 7 million pairs of athletic shoes annually.
Abbott said New Balance owner and chairman Jim Davis and his wife Anne, who is the vice chairman and executive vice president of administration, are the “driving force” behind the company and the deal and are “incredibly devoted to the state.
“I have always been impressed by the company’s dogged commitment to American manufacturing and to the state of Maine,” Abbott said. “They have around 900 employees  here in the state. And it has a fantastic reputation for philanthropy.”
He said the partnership is a “perfect fit for the university.
“The values New Balance reflects are values we try to reflect through our athletic program and the whole university,” Abbott said. “We try to focus on determination and innovative integrity.
“This is a great time for us and this is a partnership we’re very proud of.”
The gift will jump-start the $19 million field house-Memorial Gym project and leaves the university with a fundraising goal of $5 million.
Abbott said he would love to start the field house renovation next year with April listed as an ideal starting time.
And he is hopeful it can be completed in less than a year.
“We would like a sequence that would be least disruptive to our [indoor] track teams and the high school track teams,” Abbott said.
The Eastern Maine Indoor Track League uses the facility during the winter months.
Abbott also said he would like to start the Memorial Gym project in 2013.
Matt LeBretton, the director of public affairs for New Balance, said in a statement that “New Balance is proud to make a $5 million contribution to the University of Maine to help revitalize one of the state’s most used tracks. On behalf of our almost 1,000 associates in Maine, we stand with the University of Maine to encourage student-athletes to achieve success in all facets of their academic careers.
“New Balance has a long history of philanthropy in the state of Maine, and with this gift we hope to reinforce our commitment as a statewide community partner and to domestic manufacturing in Maine. The University of Maine and New Balance both stand for excellence, and together we make a powerful statement regarding the opportunity for public-private partnerships that benefit Mainers,” he added. “Go Black Bears. Let’s make excellent happen.”