Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Cole Field House
The Cole Student Activities Building at the University of Maryland, College Park will undergo a $155 million renovation after the Board of Regents approved the university's proposal. (File photo)

Storied Cole Field House headed for new identity

Nostalgia doesn’t seem to be enough to insulate the University of Maryland, College Park’s legendary Cole Field House from the change that is sweeping the institution and its athletics department.

A committee of the Board of Regents voted Thursday to approve a $155 million renovation of the facility, formally called the William P. Cole Student Activities Building, which was home to the university’s basketball team from 1955 to 2002.

The building — whose storied history includes not only great moments in Maryland basketball but milestones in American pop culture and race relations — would be gutted and expanded to make way for an indoor football practice facility.

Such a facility is regarded as a necessary amenity for schools in the Big Ten conference, which UMCP recently joined. The renovation would also bring a new football training complex, a campus-wide innovation and entrepreneurship program and a new Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance.

The proposal still needs final approval from the Board of Regents, which will vote on the matter at its Dec. 12 meeting.

Construction would start no sooner than December 2015, and would be done in two phases. The first phase involves excavating the basketball arena’s turf floor and seating and converting the space into an indoor football facility. Cole would be expanded to the north to make room.

The majority of the space, about 87,000 square feet, would be consumed by the football facility.

Some of the building’s occupants, including a number of student groups and administrative offices, would be relocated during phase I, which officials said would be completed by April 2017. The remaining occupants would be relocated during phase II of the project.

Phase II also includes expanding the facility to the north, south and west to create the football training complex and the Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance, which would be a collaboration with the University of Maryland, Baltimore and the University of Maryland Medical System.

Additionally, two outdoor natural grass football practice fields (about 169,000 square feet) would be constructed to the west of the facility. Phase II could be completed by June 2018, officials said.

The state would contribute $25 million toward the total $155 million price tag, and the university would pay $25 million, as well. The university’s contribution would be paid back with Big Ten revenues, officials said.

The remaining $105 million, officials said, would come from private donors (Under Armour is expected to chip in substantially), clinical revenue from the sports medicine center and other institutional funds.

Cole’s history includes some seminal moments in the history of college basketball. The field house hosted two NCAA Final Fours, including the 1966 games in which an all-black Texas Western starting five humbled Kentucky, longtime college hoops royalty. Coach Lefty Driesell, Tom McMillen, Len Bias and others built a program that became not just a force in the Atlantic Coast Conference but a national powerhouse as well.

Cole hosted Elvis and the U.S.-China ping-pong match in 1972, an icebreaking diplomatic event between the two superpowers.

But the facility’s size — once considered a major venue, it was outstripped by other on-campus gyms across the country — proved to be its demise.

The renovation project will likely require the university to borrow several million dollars, estimated to total as much as $83 million in fiscal 2018. About half of that would be repaid within three years of completing the project, while the rest would be repaid “over a longer period,” officials told the Board of Regents.

The project is being portrayed as an opportunity for Maryland football to level the playing field with its peers in the Big Ten conference, which over the summer officially welcomed the Terps as a member.

University officials said the absence of an indoor football facility puts Maryland at a “competitive disadvantage,” as the university is the only Big Ten institution without one.

Officials also told the Regents that rejecting the proposal would squander an opportunity to support the objectives of the University System of Maryland Strategic Plan and the “MPowering the State” initiative, a research and academic collaboration between UMCP and UMB.

About Alissa Gulin

Alissa Gulin covers health care, education and general business at The Daily Record.