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Major Upgrades at UMaine

It's a great day to be a Black Bear, a University of Maine sports fan or supporter, or a resident of the state of Maine in general.

On Wednesday morning, UMaine athletics officially unveiled its $90 million plan for much needed upgrades of the institution's athletics facilities.

Among the upgrades include new turf fields and seating for the women's soccer, softball and field hockey programs, removing the track around Morse Field at Alfond Stadium and moving the stands closer to the field, a new multipurpose facility at one end of the football stadium that will bring the basketball programs back to campus, new locker rooms and athlete lounges at Memorial Gym, and a new "speed dome" that will house a 300-meter track and a full-length football field.

Of course, the plan includes much-needed upgrades to the aging Alfond Arena, home of the school's ice hockey programs.

The planned renovations include needed upgrades to the Shawn Walsh Hockey Center, new home and visitor locker rooms, a modern, brand-new entrance and new video boards, expansion of the concourses and enhanced lighting and sound systems.

Athletic administrator Ken Ralph spoke of wanting to modernize the arena as much as possible without steering away from tradition, and keeping the Alfond, which opened in 1977 and a venue Gary Thorne once compared to the old Montreal Forum in terms of a home-ice advantage, one of the toughest places to play in the country.

You may be thinking, "well, what about the seating bowl?"

Frankly, that was on the bottom rung of needs.

UMaine is not going to be able to draw in highly-touted recruits without upgrading its training facilities and locker rooms. The current locker rooms and training facilities are outdated and cramped. That's what the Black Bears need to upgrade if they're going to compete with the likes of Boston College and Providence for top-tier players.

Yes, you'll get better legroom on a Spirit or Allegiant Airlines flight than in the Alfond seating bowl, but recruits could care less about the seating bowl. It's about having a nice facility to play in and to train in. Expanded concourses, entrances and concession areas are just fine for the fans.

UMaine can't sell its 1993 or 1999 national championships. The kids that the Black Bears are trying to recruit weren't born when they won their last national championship.

While we don't know for sure when these upgrades will be completed, the coaching staff can use it as a viable recruiting tool to lure talented players to Orono.

UMaine isn't North Dakota, Minnesota or Alabama. Fans should be very appreciative of the upgrades. We can drone over and over again about building a brand-new arena, but you'd likely have to demolish the old building first and the team would likely have to play home games in Portland for a season or a season and a half. That's too much time on buses and it's not fair to the students or to local fans.

The next generation of UMaine fans will appreciate the upgrades and it'll no doubt draw talented players to want to come to Orono. Players should want to come to UMaine to not only build towards playing in the NHL, but to want to win a national championship.

I'll also add that the needed upgrades to the soccer, softball and field hockey facilities, which include stadium seating and new press facilities, could be a gold mine for the Maine Principals' Association to consider UMaine for regional and state championship competitions in those respective sports, in addition to the single state championship football game held on campus each November.

Black Bear Nation should be very proud of this day during a 2020-21 season that has been anything but normal.

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