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Unprecedented $90M gift for UMaine athletics will revamp school’s struggling facilities

The University of Maine’s needy athletic facilities have received a major shot in the arm.

The Harold Alfond Foundation is providing the athletic department with an unprecedented gift of $90 million, the organization announced in a press release on Wednesday morning. It will be the largest single gift to athletics at a public university in New England and among the largest gifts ever, nationwide.

It was part of a $240 million grant to the University of Maine system.

It will be distributed over the next 10 years and is the lead gift in a planned $110 million investment in athletic facilities on the Orono campus. All the money is expected to be funded through private philanthropy.

The transformative gift will go toward capital projects in direct support of the master plan to upgrade the athletic facilities.

Details of the plan will be disclosed at a later date.

Last year, UMaine Athletic Director Ken Ralph had hired JLG Architects of Grand Forks, North Dakota, which has a similar climate to Maine’s, to evaluate its athletic facilities and space in order to come up with a long-term plan for improvement to the facilities.

At the top of the list is a new FieldTurf surface on Morse Field, where the Black Bears play football. The shelf life of a FieldTurf surface is 8 to 15 years according to Ralph and this fall would have been the 13th on the surface.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the fall football season to the spring.

Several former and current UMaine players called football surface the worst in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Ralph’s master plan also called for an artificial turf field for the women’s soccer team, which has shared Mahaney Diamond with the baseball team since 2014.

He also wants to move the outdoor track, which circles the football field, to another location on campus and upgrade the softball and field hockey fields.

He would like to add synthetic turf and lights to the softball field.

Ralph has also discussed improving the Alfond Arena, which is now 44 years old, and looking into someday building a basketball facility on campus.

The UMaine men’s and women’s basketball teams play at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

“Words cannot adequately convey our appreciation for the generosity of the Harold Alfond Foundation,” Ralph said. “This gift to the University of Maine System and to Black Bear Athletics once again shows how the Board of the Harold Alfond Foundation continues to honor Mr. Alfond’s passion for excellence in education and athletics.”

He called working with Greg Powell, Travis Cummings and the Alfond Foundation Board an “amazing experience” and said they were “encouraging, supportive and fully engaged in exploring the ways we could best serve our department, our university and our community.”

Ralph said the grant would allow them to “build new facilities and upgrade our existing facilities to improve the competitiveness of our Division I teams, advance our stated commitment to gender equity in our athletic programs as well as create a destination for youth club programs and high school championship level events, cementing Orono as the premier destination in Maine for sports while drawing countless youth to our campus to enjoy the thrill of competing.”

The execution of their master plan will “positively impact all 17 of our varsity programs while also providing better facilities for our on-campus recreational sports.”

He added that it will also enhance the spectator experience and the “Alfond legacy.”

The foundation is named after the late Harold Alfond, the founder of the Dexter Shoe Company and a long-time philanthropist after whom the school’s ice arena and football stadium are named.

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