UMass Breaks Ground on New Sports Facilities

Major construction work at the state university’s flagship campus commences when the University of Massachusetts begins its renovation of McGuirk Stadium this Friday, April 26 by breaking ground for the multi-million-dollar UMass Performance Center.

The university will begin construction of its new Basketball Champions Center on the same day. Both events are planned in conjunction with the university’s 150th Anniversary Alumni Weekend festivities.

The 53,000-square-foot Champions Center will provide practice and training facilities for the men’s and women’s basketball teams and their coaching staffs. The estimated cost of the Champions Center is $28.5 million. Construction is expected to be completed by the fall of 2014.

The 55,000-square-foot Performance Center will serve similar functions for the football team, and is expected to cost $34.5 million. Renovations include updating McGuirk Stadium’s press box, which UMass’ new football conference, the Mid-American Conference (MAC), deemed insufficient for current media broadcast operations. (Previously the team played in the Colonial Athletic Conference.) The MAC has a multi-year television deal with ESPN.

Before this past season, UMass had competed at the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division 1-AA) level. To make the jump to the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division 1-A), the school needed an invitation from an FBS conference. The MAC’s invitation was the only one UMass received.

The UMass football team is entering the second season of a five-year deal with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft whereby the team will play at least four of its slated home games at Kraft’s Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, about 100 miles from the state university’s main campus. One game a year could be played at McGuirk Stadium beginning with the 2014 season.

At this point, it is unknown where UMass will host its home football games after the university’s five-year deal with Kraft is played out.

The Performance Center was designed by the architectural firm Perkins + Will, Inc, and will be built by Consigli Construction Co., Inc. Both firms were hired by the UMass Building Authority, an organization established by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1960 that by now builds many types of structures on UMass campuses, from academic buildings to heating plants.

The Building Authority, which is located in downtown Boston, comprises 11 members, including five members of the university system’s Board of Trustees. At least two non-trustee members must be UMass graduates. The governor appoints all members.

While many are supportive of UMass’s efforts to expand its reputation through more prestigious athletic competition and, hopefully, success, the university’s financial commitment to the football stadium renovations in particular has drawn criticism from several members of the faculty.

Last December, an Ad Hoc Committee of the Faculty Senate presented a report on the football program’s jump to the FBS that questioned the emphasis placed on the team in relation to both alumni and prospective students, as well as the university’s overall reputation.

The report suggested a followup would be issued at the end of this spring semester, but that won’t happen until after the upcoming season has passed, committee co-chair Max Page told the Advocate.

In the meantime, Page says the expected renovation price of $34.5 million “will ultimately cost $62 million, given that it is a 30-year mortgage,” and suggests that cost is too high regardless of how many games the team wins.•

Author: Pete Redington

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