BIDDEFORD, Maine — A new $20 million athletic facility under construction on the outskirts of the University of New England’s Biddeford campus was described Monday as a game changer for the school, which is seeking to stand out in a competitive regional higher education field.
The sports center was celebrated Monday morning during what school officials announced as a ceremonial “groundbreaking.” Unlike most groundbreakings, however, Monday’s event dispensed with any pretense of construction work in favor of a ceremonial unveiling of a school banner, which everyone in attendance was invited to sign to commemorate the event. About 150 turned out, including state lawmakers, Biddeford town officials and, making up the majority of the crowd, UNE student-athletes wearing school colors.
As much as $10 million toward the cost of the three-level, 105,000-square-foot facility has been pledged by the Harold Alfond Foundation, and the new center will be called the Harold Alfond Athletics Complex.
Scott McManaman, a student at the school who plays on UNE’s two-year-old men’s ice hockey team, said the new complex, which features a 900-seat ice rink, is as good a hockey arena as can be found at any similarly sized school in the country. He said it will be a key tool in attracting new recruits for the fledgling program, which is slated to be joined by a women’s club in the coming winters.
The new facility is sandwiched between the school’s new Sokokis Hall dormitory building and its blue-turfed playing field, on what Alfond Foundation Chairman Greg Powell called the “frontier” of the UNE campus.
“This place is the future of UNE, and it shows the growth and direction of the university,” Powell told the Bangor Daily News as Monday’s festivities were dying down.
Danielle Ripich, president of the university, called the foundation gift “transformative,” and said the new complex will do more than offer the school’s sports teams a shiny new home and workout facilities. She said the building will be an attraction for larger concerts, lectures and other events as well, cementing the school’s growing status among higher education institutions in the region and better tying the school to the community.
“This changes our way of life at UNE,” Ripich told those in attendance Monday.
“I personally believe [the complex] will be the hub for our students, our community and our neighbors alike,” agreed Michael Morel, chairman of the UNE board of trustees.
In addition to the ice hockey rink, the Harold Alfond Athletics Complex will feature a basketball court with 1,200 seats, classroom space, a fitness center, and a series of multi-purpose indoor practice courts which can be combined to serve as a 3,000-seat performance venue.
Once the school has raised the funds to match the Alfond Foundation’s initial $7 million challenge grant, the foundation will contribute an additional $3 million toward the university’s health care education programs.
University of New England has two campuses, a main campus in Biddeford and a second campus in Portland.