A rendering of the softball facility at the University of Maine. Credit: Courtesy of the University of Maine

The University of Maine System’s Board of Trustees has approved up to $14 million in upgrades to the UMaine sports facilities on the Orono campus.

The approval kickstarts construction of new softball, field hockey and softball fields to begin this spring barring any complications by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that could delay the construction.

The money is coming from the Harold Alfond Foundation’s $90 million gift for upgrades to the facilities as well as some additional fundraising done by the university, according to UMaine director of athletics Ken Ralph.

He said the upgrades will include new synthetic surfaces for all three fields, new lights, team areas, fencing and bleachers. It does not include the locker rooms.

The field hockey and softball fields will be built at their current locations but the soccer field will be built where the old grass soccer field was next to the football team’s Alfond Stadium and Morse Field.

The women’s soccer team has been playing on Mahaney Diamond.

The lights on the field hockey field will be replaced and the softball field will have lights for the first time.

All of the lights will be state-of-the-art Musco Sports lights, Ralph said, to extend the playing season.

Ralph recognized that there probably will be supply chain challenges and that the biggest one will involve the bleacher seating.

“The lead time on the bleachers is significant so we need to get out in front of that and get them ordered pretty soon. We are working with the [UMaine System’s] procurement office because we need to move those construction documents along very quickly so we can get those inspected appropriately and get those orders in,” he said.

“The lead times for getting the surfaces down is a little bit more reasonable. We feel pretty confident we can get those down in the appropriate time frame. We want to be playing on them this fall,” Ralph said.

Construction of all three fields will occur simultaneously.

“The more difficult is field hockey because we have to have it done when they begin practice [in August]. They don’t have any other place to practice. Soccer could still practice on Mahaney Diamond and softball is a spring sport,” he said.

Ralph said he was “really pleased” that UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Chancellor Dannel Malloy and the Board of Trustees moved the projects forward.

“This is great for everybody. It’s long overdue. What this does for gender equity within our department by giving three women’s programs that have been underserved for quite a while facilities that will be at the top of the league, is a really big step forward for the University of Maine and the state of Maine, quite frankly,” he said.

“I just hope we don’t have supply chain issues that push us back. Then you still have issues with things like skilled labor [availability] and we’re also watching inflation. Inflation can take a bite out of what the projects can manage so we’re keeping an eye on that as well,” Ralph said.

UMaine has hired architectural firms WBRC Architects/Engineers from Bangor and Crawford Architects LLC from Kansas City, Missouri.

“We will put everything out to bid,” Ralph said. “We are a couple of weeks from the ordering stage.”

He said he is excited about working with the Maine Principals Association to land some regional and state championship events at the new fields, too.

“We want to bring people to our campus,” Ralph said.

Next on the agenda will be the renovations to Alfond Arena and exploring a new multi-purpose center on campus where the basketball teams can play.

The men’s and women’s basketball teams practice at the Memorial Gym on campus and play virtually all of their games at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

“We’ve just started looking at designs there,” Ralph said. “We want to determine what we want in the structure itself.”