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UMaine announces $5 million New Balance gift

A $5 million gift from New Balance will help fund a series of UMaine programs and initiatives, all of which have a significant impact on the university’s service to its students and the greater community.

The gift includes $2 million that will be used as a challenge grant to fund renovations to its field house, an iconic structure that has served for generations as a focal point of athletic activity involving Black Bear varsity athletes, UMaine students, university faculty and staff members, high school student-athletes, summer sports camp participants and members of the community. 

The challenge grant will be matched by a $2 million capital campaign to raise money for the field house and by approximately $1 million in previously approved state funding for hazardous materials remediation and improved ADA accessibility. The project is targeted to begin in 2012.

The remaining $3 million will support other university priorities including ongoing maintenance and facilities needs at the university’s acclaimed Student Recreation and Fitness Center, which opened in 2007, and the renovation of the Memorial Gym.

The University of Maine System Board of Trustees voted to accept the donation at its Monday meeting.  It was formally announced today at a 10:30 news conference.

The recreation center will be renamed “The New Balance Student Recreation and Fitness Center,” effective immediately.  When the field house renovations are completed, that facility will be known as the “New Balance Field House.”   The New Balance name will remain on each of those facilities for 20 years, with the possibility of extending that agreement if it is mutually agreeable at that time.

“We are humbled and flattered by New Balance’s generosity,” says UMaine President Robert Kennedy.  “With its strong Maine connections, commitment to environmental sustainability and focus on community partnerships, New Balance is an ideal partner for the University of Maine as we make investments in the future.  Members of our community and those who depend on UMaine for recreation, fitness and community engagement will benefit from this generous gift for years to come and we are most thankful.”

Based in Boston, New Balance is one of the world’s top athletics products companies.  Its manufacturing facilities include factories in the Maine towns of Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway.  It has a long history of providing high-quality equipment to runners and track and field athletes, creating a strong connection to the UMaine Field House, which is home to an indoor track that is used for both high school and college competition.

“New Balance is proud to make a $5 million contribution to the University of Maine to help revitalize one of the state’s most used tracks,” says Matt LeBretton, New Balance director of public affairs. “On behalf of our almost 1,000 associates in Maine we stand with the University of Maine to encourage student athletes to achieve success in all facets of their academic careers.  New Balance has a long history of philanthropy in the state of Maine and with this gift we hope to reinforce our commitment as a statewide community partner and to domestic manufacturing in Maine. The University of Maine and New Balance both stand for excellence – together we make a powerful statement regarding the opportunities for public/private partnerships that benefit Mainers.  Go Black Bears; Let’s Make Excellent Happen.”

Steve Abbott, the Orono native who serves as UMaine’s athletic director, points to the historical and wide-ranging significance of the field house facility.

“All of us with long-term connections to Black Bear athletics recognize the essential nature of the field house as a training and competition facility,” Abbott says.  “With its universally recognizable “block M” and its prominent location at the primary entrance to campus, the field house also symbolizes the institution as Maine’s flagship university and Black Bear sports as our state’s Division I program.  Thanks to New Balance and the generosity of others, we will soon restore the field house’s lustre and make it ready to continue serving our students and others for many years.”

Kennedy also notes that thousands of high school student-athletes have used the field house for indoor track competition, through the Eastern Maine Indoor Track League, over several decades.  As he points out, that experience represented the first exposure to UMaine for many high school students who would later decide to enroll at the university.

Robert Dana, UMaine’s vice president for student affairs and dean of students, hosted today’s news conference.  He oversees the division that operates the New Balance Student Recreation and Fitness Center which, he says, has transformed the UMaine student experience.

“In less than four years, this facility has had an incredible, positive impact on this university community,” Dana says.  “It signifies quality and high aspirations in meaningful ways, and this gift will help us maintain this magnificent facility so that it may continue as a beacon on the hill for our students, our faculty, our staff and those who live nearby and wish to take advantage of the healthy recreational and social opportunities it provides.  New Balance’s gift is much-appreciated, and it will have a long-lasting impact on student life at the University of Maine.”

LeBretton echoed Dana’s comments, noting the broad-based impact of the university’s recreation facility.

“As part of our commitment to advancing healthy lifestyles we are pleased to provide ongoing financial assistance to the newly renamed New Balance Student Recreation and Fitness Center.  This fantastic center is used by students, faculty, administrators, alumni and outside groups and reflects our ongoing dedication to supporting athletes of all ages and abilities,” he said.

The New Balance gift, which is the largest corporate gift in UMaine history, is part of Campaign Maine, the university’s ongoing comprehensive campaign.  UMaine announced in April that it had met the campaign’s $150 million goal, six months ahead of the campaign’s originally planned end date.

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