Terps' new home takes shape, even with few setbacks

$127M project reveres past, adds new touches

March 04, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The plumbing isn't fully operational yet, but the heat is on. The 14,700 permanent seats should be anchored by late April. After the four-faced scoreboard is hung, the maple floor will be installed in June by Weyer's Floor Service, the same family firm that put the hardwood in Cole Field House 47 years ago.

The Comcast Center, the new arena on the north side of campus, will become the new home to Maryland's basketball teams and most of its athletic department next autumn. The inside is coated in a layer of dust, but despite a hitch that followed groundbreaking in May 2000, the massive construction project that has been managed by Gilbane and Smoot remains on schedule for Oct. 2 occupancy.

When the adjoining parking garage that opened in August is included, more than 1 million bricks and 130 miles of wire will be used. None could be laid until the concrete pedestals were poured on the side of a hill, which in eight months will house a wall of students in red on a 56-degree angle, a detail designed to daunt opposing shooters in the second half.

"You can't lay the building on dirt and hope it stays there," said Joe Hull, a senior associate athletic director for Maryland. "The process called for 680 pilings to be drilled down to 27 feet. The engineering reports indicated that's where it needed to go, but [stability] tests at that depth failed, and all of the holes for the pilings eventually went down 40 feet. That cost additional time and money and that much more for concrete."

When all costs are tabulated, the project will run nearly $127 million, according to Kim McCalla, a project director with the Maryland Stadium Authority. The university will have to come up with $48.4 million. The state is contributing $60.6 million. The State Highway Administration will spend the other $17.8 million on roads and parking.

What will all that money buy? The Comcast Center promises to deliver a little of everything, including memories, because the Walk of Fame that will adorn the main entrance will pay tribute to the great athletes and moments in the university's history. In addition to athletic director Debbie Yow and her administrative staff, Comcast will be home to coaches and athletes from every Terps sport with the exceptions of the football, golf and swim teams.

As far as playing and practice space, picture Ritchie Coliseum, which was renovated in the late 1990s and became volleyball's home gym, being tacked on to Cole. In addition to an arena that will have a capacity of 17,500, there's a 1,500-seat gym that will be used for basketball practice conflicts and most gymnastics, volleyball and wrestling events.

The arched roof bends from baseline to baseline, as opposed to Cole's design, which curves from sideline to sideline.

Hull, who has been involved in nearly every phase of the project, said he and Yow made formal fact-finding trips to professional and college arenas. From The Pond in Anaheim, Calif., to the Orlando (Fla.) Arena, coach Gary Williams noted his likes and dislikes during his eight straight trips to the NCAA tournament.

North Carolina lost some of its home-court advantage when it moved from Carmichael Auditorium to the Smith Center in 1986. Hull said that in November 1998, the student government voted 40-0 in favor of having its allotment of 4,000 tickets ring the court rather than keeping them on one side, like at Cole.

So views aren't blocked by standing students, there is a break between the last of the 10 rows reserved for students and the first row of donors, some of whom will spend thousands for seats. Twelve of the 20 luxury suites have been rented. Cole's biggest hindrance was a concourse that narrowed to 10 feet. Comcast has two concourses and concession stands that are recessed to aid the movement of people.

"Our goal was to combine the atmosphere of the old arenas and the amenities of the modern ones," Hull said. "That's what Camden Yards, which revolutionized baseball stadiums, did. If we can get that done, we'll have the best arena in college basketball."

Out with the old ...

Cole Field House was considered state of the art when it opened in 1955, but the Comcast Center will have many more amenities when it opens later this year.


Opening year...1955...2002

Cost... $3.2M*...$108M

Square feet...202,000...440,000


Permanent seats...12,230...14,700

Student seats...4,000...4,000

Luxury suites...0...20

Concession stands...4...12


*-Adjusted for inflation, this is worth $21.1 million in 2001 dollars. SOURCE: University of Maryland

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