June 23, 2018
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Work begins on $15 million project to renovate UMaine field house, gym

Carter McCall | BDN
Carter McCall | BDN
The University of Maine field house was closed Monday as work begins on a $15 million project to renovate the field house and Memorial Gymnasium buildings during the next 20 months.
By Pete Warner, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — Preliminary work has begun on renovations to the 87-year-old University of Maine field house.

UMaine on Monday closed the field house and relinquished control to PC Construction of Portland, which has begun the process of removing unwanted materials from the building.

The project, which has been in the planning stages for more than three years, includes a $15 million combined facelift for UMaine’s field house and Memorial Gymnasium facilities.

Last month, the University of Maine System Board of Trustees approved an additional $1 million for roofing, masonry work and painting, which was not accounted for in the original $14 million estimate.

UMaine Director of Athletics Steve Abbott said the field house upgrades are expected to cost approximately $5 million. Of that amount, about $2 million will come from a $5 million gift from shoe manufacturer New Balance in 2011.

It will be renamed “The New Balance Field House.”

“It’s really exciting for us to get to the start line and get this project going,” Will Biberstein, UMaine Associate Athletic Director for Internal Operations, said. “It has been a long journey to get to this point.”

Students, faculty, staff and the general public have utilized the building for running, walking, track and field training, basketball and other activities. UMaine’s New Balance Student Recreation Center will provide similar opportunities during the interim.

Biberstein said the initial work inside the field house, which was built in 1926, will include the removal of the rubberized Tartan track and infield surfaces that were laid in 1972. That dynamic was critical in former Gov. John Baldacci gaining Legislative approval in 2011 of a $7 million university-generated revenue bond to help fund the renovations.

A 2010 BDN story revealed the Tartan surface emits small amounts of mercury vapor. Exposure to mercury, a heavy metal, can cause neurological damage.

However, air samples taken inside the field house were found to contain mercury vapor levels within health standards established by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The university has taken all measures to make sure that the field house has been safe for everybody who has been in there,” Biberstein said.

The need for removal of toxic asbestos from other parts of the complex also was instrumental in gaining approval of the bond by the Legislature and the UMS Board of Trustees.

Biberstein explained that in addition to pulling up the track and flooring, PC Construction will remove items such as unused air-handling units, along with basketball hoops and supports, protective netting and items that were displayed on the walls.

The asphalt base under the rubberized flooring will be left intact and washed, while all the structural steel will be cleaned and prepared for painting. No further major work will be done until mid-May, as UMaine plans to use the field house during its commencement.

“There really isn’t another space with a large enough volume to stage all the graduates [in preparation for marching into Alfond Arena],” Biberstein said.

“It’s a day that the University of Maine is showcasing the campus and we don’t want the construction work that we’re doing to take away from each graduate’s special day,” he said.

Biberstein said UMaine will unveil further details about the field house project when the next phase of work begins in May. The hope is the renovations will be complete by mid-to-late October.

UMaine won’t have use of the field house during the summer, which means participants in some summer sports clinics will be utilizing other facilities. There also will be some UMaine and community events in September and October that will have to be relocated to the recreation center or other buildings, he said.

UMaine also wants to make sure Black Bears teams that normally use the building in the fall won’t literally be left out in the cold.

“We tried to look at the least-impactful window,” Biberstein said of the April to October construction period.

Details are still being worked out in regard to proposed renovations to the adjacent Memorial Gym building, but some of the improvements will begin this summer, according to Abbott.

While a complete overhaul of the gym affectionately known as “The Pit,” was deemed cost-prohibitive given the scope of the work and the funds available, it will receive a few needed improvements.

Abbott said the gym floor will be resurfaced and repainted with basketball-only markings, as it previously had also been used for volleyball. UMaine will install new backboards on the practice baskets on the east and west sides of the court and the interior of the gym will be painted.

“The goal for The Pit is to make it a first-class practice facility, which it will be,” Abbott said. “We will still have occasional games in there.”

Abbott said an elevator will be installed on the west side of the building that will provide easy access to the third floor offices and the top level of seating. The elevator is one of the items required to help bring the building up to code.

“By putting the elevator in, we’ll be able to use The Pit for other events as well,” said Abbott, who mentioned concerts, meetings and shows as possibilities.

With Memorial Gym out of the mix as UMaine’s primary home basketball venue, other options include playing home games at Alfond Arena, also the home of UMaine’s hockey programs, and playing at the brand-new Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

Abbott said UMaine continues to negotiate with Global Spectrum, the company that is managing the building for the City of Bangor, about having its men’s and women’s basketball teams play at the facility during the 2013-14 season.

“It’s a wonderful facility and I think it would be a great arrangement for Bangor and for the university,” Abbott said. “I’m very encouraged and have found Global Spectrum to be terrific to work with.”

However, Abbott explained UMaine and Global Spectrum are trying to work out “complicated issues in terms of executing marketing agreements and sponsorship agreements” the two entities utilize.

Abbott said the bulk of the Memorial Gym work is scheduled to begin in December. Improvements will be made to existing locker rooms and office areas, centralizing administrative staff members for functionality.

The upgrades will enable several athletic department staff members to work in the gym building and vacate the mobile unit that has been behind the field house for several years.

UMaine will install additional restrooms and make improvements to hallways and stairwells. There also is considerable infrastructure work needed on mechanical, electrical and ventilation systems, along with fire alarms and other building code upgrades.

Another key concern is improving the entrance on the west side of the building that faces Alfond Arena and College Avenue.

“We want to construct an entry way and bathrooms and a handicapped-accessible entrance,” Abbott said. “That side has the most traffic in the building, but it’s our least-accessible entrance.”

Abbott said plans tentatively call for work on Memorial Gym to be completed by the fall of 2014.

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