University of Maine arena may no longer be ‘The Pit’

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ORONO (AP) – The University of Maine arena known to generations of students as “The Pit” may be getting its biggest makeover yet.

Memorial Gym, which has received a few facelifts in its seven decades as a landmark on the Orono campus, may get a renovation in the $12.5 million range.

“We’ve done some internal drawings within the university to get an idea of what we’re looking at,” said Blake James, interim UMaine athletic director. “The general idea is a 3,000-seat arena.” The renovation would include locker rooms and offices.

“The Pit” developed a reputation from the 1950s to 70s as one of the toughest arenas in New England for visiting teams to play in because it’s so noisy and the crowd sits so close to the action. Two decades ago, “Sports Illustrated” magazine called it one of the toughest places in the country to play in.

The men’s and women’s Black Bear basketball teams moved to Alfond Arena, home of the hockey team, in 1992. In 2003, the university started scheduling at least one men’s basketball game per season at Memorial Gym.

Seating has ranged from 1,200 to 2,100. The gym was renovated in 1990 for $1.2 million and in 1999 it got a new hardwood floor in preparation for the volleyball team’s maiden season. Volleyball would continue to play in a newly renovated Memorial Gym.

The latest project gets momentum from a sustained push to find a home court for the basketball teams. UMaine basketball coaches for years have advocated a separate court for their teams.

“It’s a difficult scheduling system with four teams playing at Alfond Arena, so even though we haven’t finalized anything at this point, we feel the best solution is the renovation of Memorial Gym,” said James.

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