Maryland weighs fate of Cole Field House New arena unlikely because of tight funds

March 21, 1996|By Ken Murray and David Folkenflik | Ken Murray and David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

The concourse is a tight squeeze on game nights and the lines at the concession booths unwieldy. There is no air conditioning, office space is cramped and bathrooms are barely adequate.

Cole Field House, the home of Maryland basketball, is 41 years old. "It's an aged building," said Debbie Yow, Maryland director of athletics. "We've painted seats, done some cosmetics. But any structural changes, like widening the concourses, become very expensive."

Working with university president Dr. William E. Kirwan, the Department of Engineering and Architecture on campus, the athletic staff and outside consultants, Yow is attempting to solve the issues of age, inconvenience and safety at the tradition-rich facility. At the same time, she would like to generate additional revenue in the building.

From a list of three options, Maryland already has eliminated the prospective gutting and reconstruction of Cole.

A second option, building a new, 18,000-seat arena either on campus or nearby, has major funding flaws for a university with an athletic department debt in excess of $6 million.

The third option would address space and safety issues (such as wiring) for an estimated $10 million to $15 million.

If the central question is one of cost, Kirwan does not appear to favor the construction of a new, $60 million facility. Instead, he called for the upgrading of Cole, with its seating capacity of 14,500.

"It is beginning to show some age, so it would be irresponsible not to look at the systems that support Cole and what modifications might be necessary," Kirwan said.

"Some people start to say, 'What about a new arena?'

"Given the cost of these things, I can't imagine where the money would be. Certainly, we don't have the money, not with university resources. If the state has additional money, we've got dire needs that are certainly greater than a new arena.

"Faculty salaries is my No. 1 concern. We've seen a very alarming and disturbing erosion in terms of faculty salaries."

The state contributed $23 million in matching gifts for the refurbishing of Maryland's football facilities. The men's and women's basketball teams have had their locker rooms renovated in the past two years.

But there is pressure to keep up with other Atlantic Coast Conference schools. North Carolina has its sparkling Dean Smith Center and North Carolina State will replace Reynolds Coliseum in two years with a new arena. Georgia Tech just completed an $11 million upgrade of its facility, as well, thanks to sponsorship from McDonald's. Tech renamed its building the Alexander Memorial Coliseum at McDonald's Center.

Cole is the third-oldest facility in the ACC behind Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium (built in 1940) and Reynolds Coliseum (1949).

Corporate sponsorship is one of the funding avenues open to Yow. Before coming to Maryland in 1994, she helped orchestrate the construction of an off-campus arena for Saint Louis University. She said three of four possible sites for a new facility in College Park are within walking distance.

"I think, given our ability to identify solid funding sources, that the university would be interested in pursuing a new facility," she said. "But that's a big 'if.'

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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