Sep. 17—When it comes to upgrading the University of Maine's athletic facilities, Ken Ralph wants to hit the ground running.
Morse Field, home of the football team, was the first beneficiary with a new artificial turf surface replacing the outdated and deteriorating old surface.
Now Ralph, UMaine's director of athletics, said the school has narrowed the field of architectural firms who will design the project to eight, and it hopes to have "the one" selected as soon as possible.
The upgrades were made possible by a $90 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation that will ultimately improve fields and facilities for all 17 university sports. The university is in the process of raising another $20 million.
The chosen firm will provide the university with a master plan for the entire project and they will hire contractors to begin the project, Ralph said.
"We don't want a plan for just one field and then wait until that's done before they design the plan for the next field," Ralph said. "We don't want a project to take 16 months when it could have been done in four. The Alfond gift is going to be spread out over 10 years but we don't want it to take 10 years to get everything done."
A field for the women's soccer team remains at the top of the list.
The women have been playing on the baseball field, Mahaney Diamond, since 2015 in order to use an artificial turf surface comparable to the surfaces of their America East opponents. Previously they had played on Alumni Field, a grass field with poor drainage.
"It's not fair to them. They deserve their own field," Ralph said, noting the arrangement has always irritated him.
New softball and field hockey fields will be among the next projects. Ralph said the school intends to peck away at smaller projects, too.
Ralph said they intend to be progressive in their "adaptive re-use of space" by finding new ways to use old spaces that become available as a result of the upgrades.
"The University of West Virginia built a beautiful new pool and they transformed the old pool into a strength and conditioning center," he said.
The original master plan has been altered, Ralph said, based on feedback the school received when it was first released.
"We want our facilities to be as good if not better than any in America East. That's our goal," he said.
Ralph is hoping to have the new master plan in place this winter.
He said the university will announce some developments in their fundraising efforts soon.
Other intended upgrades at UMaine include a 2,500-3,000-seat basketball facility on campus so the teams won't have to play at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, a self-contained outdoor track facility and a domed practice field to replace the Mahaney Dome, and renovating 45-year old Alfond Arena.