URI’s sports fields getting financial boost, but more work needs to be done

THE UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND has secured most of the needed funding in the state budget to repair its aging athletics facilities, including Meade Stadium, pictured. / COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND
THE UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND has secured most of the needed funding in the state budget to repair its aging athletics facilities, including Meade Stadium, pictured. / COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – With a stroke of the pen on June 16 outside the R.I. Statehouse, Gov. Daniel J. McKee signed off on the $14 billion 2024 state fiscal budget that includes significant funding to help the University of Rhode Island repair and refurbish its aging athletics infrastructure.

While the funding is still short of the $82 million URI needs to upgrade Meade, the track, the soccer fields, the baseball and softball fields to make them “feasible,” URI Director of Athletics Thorr Bjorn told Providence Business News the financial boost the university received to fix the fields is “transformational” for the athletics department and “desperately needed.” Plus, Bjorn said the funding also gives URI fundraising opportunities to show possible donors that the commitment has been made by the state to address the fields, with an eye for the university to bridge the remaining financial gap needed for the full fix.

“I couldn’t be more grateful for this,” Bjorn said. “The folks in the Statehouse have stepped up and helped us make a difference.”

In the signed budget, URI will be getting $65.8 million to renovate the stands at Meade Stadium, which hosts the university’s football and lacrosse programs on campus, the Slade track and field that is more than 30 years old and unusable for competition and other sports complexes on campus needing repairs. The funding is part of McKee’s push to rectify what he called a “historic underinvestment” of URI as a whole from the state.

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With most of the needed funding secured, Bjorn said URI can start working its way to make its sports fields attractive for incoming and prospective student athletes – helping URI potentially increase its enrollment, as well. Plus, it will make the university more competitive in the athletic realm, both outside of Rhode Island and from within, he said.

Locally, Bryant University and Providence College have done capital campaigns seeking donations from alumni and the community on their own to improve current athletic facilities or build new ones. Bryant is slated to build a new on-campus arena for basketball and other events that is expected to be financed with “significant philanthropic investments,” according to Bryant officials. PC, meanwhile, raised millions to upgrade its sports facilities over the years, including building the Ruane Friar Development Center and Innovation Lab for its nationally prominent basketball programs.

“Sports facilities, next to scholarships, are the most important recruiting tool you have,” Bjorn said. “Our coaches have done a wonderful job, especially on the track side, to really not let facilities be a negative [in recruiting student athletes]. Athletics can be a great marketing tool when you’re successful. That’s why I think our president [Marc B. Parlange] really understands the importance of investment here.”

Securing the monetary boost was the easy part. Now, the real work begins at URI, and it will take some time.

Bjorn said URI will prioritize repairing Meade and the track first, as those facilities will take the most time to repair – about two years. The university, he said, will have to go out to bid for the next design phase for the renovations, a process that will take “a couple of months.” Bjorn said Meade and the track already had the initial architectural and engineering work done on them, so they are “further along” with the planning.

However, getting planning and construction documents will take “at least a year” to get together, Bjorn said. Best case scenario, Bjorn says football and lacrosse will play at Meade next academic year and then football plays in the fall of 2024, with construction starting soon after.

“We may have to figure out what we’re doing [for playing football and lacrosse] the following couple of years as construction is going on,” Bjorn said. “But that would be our plan.”

Bjorn said Meade’s east stand’s capacity will be close to back to normal for this coming football season. The capacity, normally 5,000 on the stadium’s east side, was limited to 3,000 due to the stand’s structural deficiencies. Bjorn said that work should be rectified to allow larger capacity within the next month.

Additionally, URI’s athletics department will with the URI Foundation & Alumni Engagement to put together a fundraising plan to help complete all the projects “at the maximum level.”

“In order to do that, we need to raise some money as well,” Bjorn said. “But [the current project and fundraising] can go parallel with each other. We don’t have to raise the money to get started. We have to raise the money to finish.”

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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