Construction to begin in winter for new UMBC arena

UMBC officials detail soon-to-come event center

Work on the new campus' event center is scheduled for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is scheduled to begin this winter, said the university architect, Joe Rexing, and be completed in time for the start of the 2017-2018 basketball season.

For 16 months, there will be heavy construction going on at the school, but the end result will be worth it for the whole southwest Baltimore community, he said.

The new facility will be situated on campus, on what is now an empty space between the school's stadium lot, soccer stadium and the UMBC stadium complex, and will be accessible via Hilltop Circle.

The school's forested areas, which are used for environmental research and teaching, will not be affected.

The school's Retriever Activities Center Arena houses all of the campus' varsity, intramural and recreation sports, he said, in addition to serving as a base for physical education classes and campus camps.

"This [current] facility is trying to address all the community needs and the campus needs," Rexing said of the building, which opened in 1973, according to the school website. "It's just not big enough."

The new 170,000 square-foot, $67 million space will host the UMBC's varsity teams and provide more room for campus and community events, like talks, concerts and high school graduation ceremonies, he said.

Both Catonsville and Lansdowne High schools held their commencements at the RAC, for example.

The building now in use by the school will remain the home of recreation and intramural sports and student and community gyms.

"Southwest Baltimore County is somewhat underserved by a venue space," Rexing said, noting the large gathering spaces Towson University and Stevenson University feature for use by their surrounding communities.

The hope, he said, is that the new building will allow for even better programming, both for students and for community members. "We're an opportunity for this to happen more," he said.

UMBC Athletic Director Tim Hall said his department is anxiously awaiting 2017.

"From an athletic perspective on this campus, it will be transformative," he said. "It will be the top two or three in our league (America East Conference)."

With the school's busy schedule of summer campus hosted at the current athletic building, the Retriever sports teams have been forced to hold their allotted summer practices either in the early morning or at night, he said.

"It's in use from the time the sun goes up to the time to sun goes down," he said.

The swim and dive teams will stay in the current athletic building, he said, because that's where the pool is. But the remainder of the varsity athletics will relocate.

The new building, he said, will provide student athletes with access to upgraded training facilities, locker rooms and other amenities, he said. Additionally, the building is designed to allow for the athletics department to function unaffected by large events taking place, with practice court available for team use.

Seating for basketball games will remain close to the amount of just over 4,000 that the current facility offers, Rexing said.

The point of the project isn't to add spectator space, he said, but rather to allow for a better experience for all of the campus' visitors, no matter what event they choose to attend.

"It's not about making bigger crowds," he said. "It's about making more options."

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