The preparations have long since started and are ongoing.

And right after the University of Maine holds its commencement on May 7, the renovation of the multi-purpose Alfond Arena will begin.

It will carry a price tag of $4.85 million with $3.5 million of it coming from an Alfond Foundation gift, according to athletic director Steve Abbott. The foundation, named after late philanthropist Harold Alfond, will provide $5.5 million and a matching grant of $2 million for the Memorial Gymnasium/field house renovation which carries a combined price tag of $14 million, according to Abbott.

Abbott said the Alfond Arena project will hit the ground running as soon after graduation as possible.

They will begin by digging up the floor.

“The schedule will be tight. We can’t move the graduation up so we have to deal with the schedule we have,” said Abbott. “There’s no flexibility on the front end.

“Our dream is to have everything done by the second week of September,” added Abbott. “It would be great to be able to get the teams in there by then. We want to be able to get in all the practice time we can. We don’t want to have a home game lost (because the arena wasn’t ready).”

Alfond Arena, which was built in 1976, has undergone several changes over the years including an expansion that resulted in more than 1,800 new seats and the addition of luxury boxes, the Dexter Lounge, locker rooms, offices, souvenir stands, the Shawn Walsh Hockey Center and a Hockey Hall of Fame.

This time around, the university  will replace the outdated chiller system and will add new boards and glass as well as a dehumidification unit, new flooring under the ice and in the concourse and an improved sound system. There will also be new seat-back chairs in the lower levels.

“And there will be a couple of rows of bleacher-type seats that will become seat-backs,” said Abbott. “We’re going to widen the exit rows and fix the steps. Some of the steps that start from the concourse and go down toward the ice are uneven.

Abbott said in addition to enhancing the environment for the fans, “we also want to improve the safety of the arena for them.”

The new glass will be much clearer and will supply the fans with a better view of the ice.

And, with the exception of Maine’s men’s and women’s hockey teams, any other teams or groups playing hockey will have to use a specific “non-marking puck,” according to Abbott. That will significantly reduce the marks on the glass.

“The pucks haven’t been approved by the NCAA,” said Abbott in explaining why his men’s and women’s varsity teams will be using the traditional pucks.

“The air quality will be better, the sound will be better and many of the seats will be better,” said Abbott.

Maine men’s hockey coach Tim Whitehead praised the Alfond family, outgoing president Robert Kennedy and former governor John Baldacci for their supportive efforts and generosity in making this project a reality.

“This wouldn’t have happened without them,” said Whitehead.

He said they have a little more than $400,000 still to raise as they have already raised $600,000 and they have secured $300,000 from the state for ADA compliance to go with the $3.5 million Alfond Foundation gift.

Whitehead said the facility will be better for everyone and that the improved ice surface will be safer for the players.

“We have seen some injuries caused by ruts in the ice,” he noted.

The ice had also been bumpy because the floor underneath the ice was “warped” due to its long-term usage.

The ice surface, boards and glass will create a “truer game” and Whitehead said it will be
“better for our style of play which is based on speed and skill.”

There will also be better temperature control, he said.

The current plexi-glass is three years old and that’s the usual longevity of glass, according to Whitehead. It is the original floor and he said the boards are “at least 15 years old.”

Maine defensemen Will O’Neill, who will be one of the co-captains next season, and fellow defenseman Mike Cornell, an assistant captain, are looking forward to the rink’s facelift.

“This will bring a new atmosphere to our games,” said Cornell. “We have the best fans in college hockey and they pay a lot of money to see us. They deserve this.”

O’Neill concurred.

“It’s very important that our fans have a great place to sit and watch a game,” he said.

Whitehead noted how important facilities are in recruiting and pointed out that three of the Frozen Four teams this season, Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota and Notre Dame either have new arenas or are in the process of getting one. North Dakota’s Engelstad Arena is 10 years old; Minnesota-Duluth moved into a new arena this season and Notre Dame will move into a new one next season.

And he said the athletic department at the University of Michigan, the other Frozen Four team, “does a great job renovating Yost Arena on a consistent basis.”

He said he hopes to have the funding completed by July 1 and, on Aug. 1, he intends to begin fundraising for “phase two” which is a “new front entrance to the arena, renovated restrooms  and a new locker room for the women’s team so opposing teams can use the old women’s locker room.”

Opposing teams currently use two locker rooms that are separated by a hallway.

As for the Memorial Gym and field house renovations, Abbott said they have just begun the fundraising and need to raise $9 million for the $19 million project.

“We can try to raise the money for both together or do it separately,” he explained. “I’d like to do the field house first. That will cost approximately $5 million. The Memorial Gym will cost $14 million.”

The field house project would include a new surface, new long jump and pole vault areas and a track upgrade. It would also include work on the electrical system, air conditioning and heating.

“And we want four full lanes. It’s like we have three and a half now,” he said.

As for the Gym, Abbott would like to add “at least 1,000 more seats” to elevate the capacity to approximately 2,400. They would upgrade some of the other seats.

There would also be new locker rooms and offices.

“If we do the field house first, I’d like to have it ready by the fall of 2012. It gets a lot of use. And I’d like to have the Pit (Memorial Gym) done by the end of 2013 or 2014,” he said.

He said he wants all of their facilities to be accessible to the community.