ORONO — Lots of different dollar figures have been floated in regard to how much money is needed to renovate the University of Maine’s Memorial Gymnasium and field house.
UMaine athletic director Steve Abbott said $14 million is the amount that will make the project a reality, at least for the bulk of the work.
“Our initial goal is to raise $14 million for the facility and we’re very close to that number,” Abbott said. “Anything we can raise over and above that number can do nothing but help.”
Abbott said since UMaine is closing in on its base-level fundraising goal for the project, the athletic department is poised to take the next step in the process.
“Our plan is to present this to the (University of Maine System) Board of Trustee in November and then if we get approval, we’re under way,” Abbott said. “We’ll hire an architect and get the process rolling.”
Since Abbott joined the department 13 months ago, one of his primary goals has been to keep momentum going on fundraising to overhaul Memorial Gym and upgrade the field house.
Some of those efforts have coincided with what he referred to as a “feasibility phase,” during which ideas were discussed about how to best maximize the money raised.
Last December, a select group of benefactors and potential donors was shown architectural schematics and artists renderings of what the athletic complex might look like after the proposed renovations.
Abbott said the feasibility phase was critical in helping him and the staff evaluate what is most important to UMaine athletics when the actual work is done.
He admitted he was not thrilled with any of the preliminary proposals, some of which ranged well above UMaine’s anticipated budget restrictions.
“The whole study part, it’s very stressful and frustrating,” he said. “We spent a lot of time looking at it and thinking about it and I’m excited about it now.”
Abbott indicated UMaine probably will elect to pass on bells and whistles and instead do the necessary things in comprehensive fashion.
“Once we saw what we could do, we said, ‘let’s focus on the quality of the building,’” Abbott explained. “We want to make the Pit, the field house, the locker rooms, the (UMaine) Hall of Fame and the public areas as nice as we can and really preserve the character of this place that everybody loves so much.”
Among the non-negotiable items is an elevator, which is needed to allow fans with physical limitations to move between the two levels of the gym.
Abbott said once the money is in place and the project is given the go-ahead, UMaine must hire architects and engineers and involve UMaine’s other departments to determine where the money should be directed.
“We’re looking at the field house, the offices, a lot of space for our programs,” Abbott said, “but also behind-the-scenes space, locker rooms and things like that. We’re working now on what our priority list is.”
While it was first believed the field house facelift — including the removal of materials containing mercury and asbestos — might be the first phase of the overall project, that might not be the case.
Abbott said if contractors deem it necessary to bring heavy equipment into the field house in order to work on the Memorial Gym restructuring, it would be counterproductive to lay down a new indoor track and multipurpose floor only to have them at high risk for being damaged.
He also explained the timing of the work to be done will play a part. UMaine will strive to avoid major inconveniences to student-athletes and staff during the school year, if at all possible.
Abbott said making dramatic improvements to the Memorial Gym and field house are critical to the long-term health of the UMaine athletic program. That’s because the building is where many prospective student-athletes will be introduced to UMaine and will talk with their coaches and other staff members.
It is there many will receive their first impression of the campus.
“It will give us a great boost not only for our basketball teams but for all our programs,” Abbott said.
While progress is being made, Abbott said the fundraising will continue in the hope of making the new Memorial Gym and field house as functional and impressive as possible.
“The fundraising’s going well,” he said. “We’ve got a number of prospects out there.”