About a year and a half ago, the University of Maine’s athletic department received a $90 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation that promised to transform the school’s athletic facilities.
As part of the facilities makeover, the Black Bears set an ambitious goal to raise $20 million over 10 years through private donations.
UMaine has raised about $3 million, with the major part of the fundraising effort yet to begin, according to Seth Woodcock, the school’s senior associate athletic director for development. Once the project starts to become tangible, with actual construction, officials expect to increase fundraising efforts.
“We’re really thrilled with the engagement that we’ve seen from our friends and community members,” said UMaine Athletic Director Ken Ralph. “To be at this point, considering we haven’t gotten to the degree of detail on the major projects, I think is incredibly encouraging.”
UMaine released a master plan for the athletic facilities four months after the Alfond gift was announced. It included new stadiums for its women’s soccer, field hockey and softball programs, a multipurpose arena on campus that would be the home court for the basketball programs, home to the football team and include state-of-the-art training facilities and much-needed renovations at Alfond Arena.
And now, with the construction of the soccer, field hockey and softball stadiums to begin later this spring, school officials expect to see an increase in gifts to the project.
“Right now we’re working with donors who might be interested in those projects,” said Woodcock. “This spring is a big opportunity for people who want to help female sports.”
Ralph came to Maine in 2018 with the reputation as someone who can raise funds for new athletic facilities. He did it at Connecticut College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Colorado College. He said as projects come closer to reality, the donors typically show up.
“Until we have a design for the basketball facility that’s not just a concept design, until we get a firm design on that, and on the hockey facility and the upgrades to football, those are where our biggest donors are really available,” said Ralph. “So to see so many people jump in so early is really extraordinary for us and it shows the excitement people have for these projects.”
UMaine has already received two major gifts to the project. Last October, Rod Sparrow donated $1 million to the project, the money designated for the football program with Sparrow having naming rights to the new office facility. Then, in December, Phillip and Susan Morse donated $1 million for general use in the facilities master plan.
Both Sparrow, a 1971 UMaine graduate, and Phillip Morse, a 1964 UMaine grad, have been longtime donors to the athletic department. The artificial turf field at Alfond Stadium is called Morse Field.
Tom Savage, a retired lawyer who grew up in Bangor and now splits his time between Searsport and Key Largo, Florida, said he plans on donating even more.
“I’ve been in contact with Seth and will be down the line as well,” he said. “I’ll be talking a lot more when I get back home in the summer, we’ll get a little more specific. But I will be contributing and I’m hopeful other people will as well.”
Savage is typical of many of the donors. He is a graduate of Maine and either played a sport there (he played baseball for one year) or has always had an interest in athletics. He is thrilled with the designs to build new fields for women’s sports and bringing basketball back on campus.
“I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I’m hoping we can fund this sooner rather than later. Get them built. I want to see them.”
Woodcock said it is important to build relationships with alumni like Savage, Sparrow and Morse. Fundraising, he said, isn’t as simple “as walking into Pat’s Pizza and see who’s kicking around. It has to be very strategic. A typical major gift can take anywhere from 2 to 10 years to pull together, especially in Maine.”
On Wednesday, UMaine announced that Crawford Architects, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, was chosen to design the facilities and stadiums.
Ralph said that while construction will begin shortly on the new stadiums, it is unlikely any will be ready at the start of the fall season. He is hopeful that the women’s soccer and field hockey teams will get onto their new fields at some point in the fall.
And, in a change from the original master plan, UMaine will no longer build a 300-meter track inside a new domed stadium. Ralph said that while the domed stadium will still be constructed, it will not include that track. Instead, a new eight-lane, 400-meter track will be constructed in the northeast corner of the athletic footprint on campus. It will include a practice field on the interior as well as bleachers.
“We heard from too many track people that they didn’t like the idea of the 300-meter indoor track,” Ralph said. “They felt we would benefit more from an outdoor track.”
There is no timetable for the construction of the outdoor track, he added.
Ralph believes that as the projects move into the construction phase, more gifts will come in.
“When the fields get done, it will show people that the university is serious about upgrading its athletic facilities,” he said. “And that will really kickstart the back end of our fundraising program.”