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$90 Million donation for new athletic facilities at UMaine

In a year that has produced uncertainty and ups and downs in the sports world, the University of Maine athletic department experienced the highest of 2020 highs this week.

The University announced Wednesday morning that the athletic department is receiving a $90 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation. 

The gift is the largest gift to an athletic department at a public institution in New England and is among the largest in the nation.

This is a monumental step for the University's athletic department in terms of upgrading on-campus facilities and perhaps construction of new ones.

Let's start with the University's marquee program, men's ice hockey. 

Afond Arena has a lot of history and is one of the loudest, most venerable buildings in the country. 

But it is also more than 40 years old, the seats are tiny, there are many obstructed views, and the visiting locker room facilities are among the worst in the country.

When you look at other arenas in Hockey East, they include many modern amenities the Alfond is lacking. UMaine's last national championship came in 1999, and when you're playing in a 43-year-old arena, it's hard to recruit top-notch players based on a championship won before any of these players were born. 

It remains to be seen how much of this money goes towards a new hockey arena, but it should be one of the top priorities for athletic administrator Ken Ralph and his staff. College hockey fans nationwide will tell you the game is better when UMaine is among the country's top teams.

More details about the master plan will come later, but I have a feeling the men's hockey facilities will be at the forefront of that plan. The football stadium's FieldTurf could also use an upgrade and the track surrounding the field is worn down. 

Either way, this is a great gift for the state's flagship University. 

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