ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine athletic department has undertaken a $5 million renovation of its field house, and it is the first phase of a $15 million project that will encompass the adjacent Memorial Gymnasium building. But digging around inside a nearly 90-year-old structure means some unexpected problems are bound to come up.
“The project has gone extremely well, considering that we’re doing some major renovations on a 1924 build,” said Will Biberstein, UMaine’s associate athletic director for internal operations.
But workers from PC Construction of Portland have run into several unexpected hurdles that will delay the project. This summer, they found more hazardous materials, including asbestos-wrapped pipes buried in the concrete and more flooring that contained mercury.
“We were originally looking at about a [Dec. 15, 2013] completion date, and now we’re looking at a [Jan. 3, 2014] completion,” Biberstein said.
In May, UMaine unveiled details about the first two phases of the renovations, and athletics director Steve Abbott said UMaine anticipated the work would be completed by Oct. 15.
“That was before we had locked in that we were shrinking the size of the track,” Biberstein said of the reduction from 218 meters to 190 meters to comply with new NCAA regulations limiting the size of indoor tracks to fewer than 200 meters.
“We had to move in one set of the steel girders, and we’re moving that bank [on the east side of the building],” he said.
Construction workers also encountered more time-consuming, unplanned work with the discovery the windows around the building were glazed with asbestos. That was an area where UMaine didn’t want to compromise.
“Taking the time to remediate all those windows is something that, once we got into the project we said, ‘yes, we have to do it,’” Biberstein said.
He said the expense of removing the windows, other asbestos and mercury fell within UMaine’s extensive budget for removal and disposal of hazardous materials.
The windows have been replaced by drywall, which has been painted white, as have all the walls and ceiling.
New lighting also means the fieldhouse is lit at 75 foot-candles, as opposed to the three foot-candles before the work began. A foot-candle is a measurement of light intensity.
“It’s really coming along nicely, and we’re excited to get this completed and get the athletes and the community back in with a building that we can all be proud of,” Biberstein said.
With the delay, the Black Bears’ indoor track and field teams will be relegated to training either outside on the Beckett Family Track or inside the Mahaney Dome.
The Penobscot Valley Conference-Eastern Maine Indoor Track League has utilized the field house for its winter meets since its inception in 1971. League director Mary Cady said two weeks of meets have been canceled.
If the renovations are completed in time, the PVC-EMITL will hold its first meet in the facility Jan. 4. If not, it will open Jan. 10-11. Nearly 500 athletes compete in the league.
“At this point in time, we’re just playing it by ear,” Cady said. “There’s nothing we can do about it. We’ll make it work, and we’ll deal with it.”
Cady has suggested high school teams consider attending the Bowdoin Relays (Dec. 15) or the University of Southern Maine Relays (Dec. 29) for some early-season competition.
With new lighting, better surfaces, upgraded circulation and an integrated public address system, she believes it will be worth the wait to use UMaine’s New Balance Field House.
“The university’s athletic department is being as accommodating as they can be, but their hands are tied, too,” Cady said. “It sounds like it’s going to be a beautiful track.”
There have been inconveniences for UMaine student-athletes, coaches and staff. For starters, they have had to take different routes to get around in the Memorial Gym complex.
Ann Maxim and her student-athlete academic support staff have relocated to Crossland Hall because of safety concerns. The Sezak Lounge, a student-athlete study area, also is closed while an elevator shaft is installed next to it and the west entry is redone.
The windows to the football offices on the floor below had been temporarily covered with plywood, and the former multipurpose room located above the football offices has been gutted to add an office suite in the final phase of the project.
“We’re living in a construction zone, but we know the future’s bigger and brighter, and we’re excited for it,” Biberstein said. “I can’t compliment the staff enough for how much patience they’ve had.”