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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Swing of wrecking ball gets
URI Convocation Center project off to smashing start
Dignitaries launch largest building project in URI history

KINGSTON, R.I.-- July 13, 2000 -- With the swing of a wrecking ball, the University of Rhode Island today launched the official start of the largest design and construction project in its history the $54 million Convocation Center.

With an assist from Gov. Lincoln Almond, Bilray Demolition Co. Inc., Johnston, began demolishing the field house at Meade Stadium with a crane and wrecking ball to start clearing the site for the 200,000-square-foot Convocation Center. It will be built to the north of the Tootell Physical Education Center and to the west of Meade Stadium.

"I have watched the University of Rhode Island grow tremendously in size and stature since I graduated," said Gov. Almond. "Keaney Gym has been the site of so many exciting and memorable occasions, and will always have a special place in our hearts. But a first-class institution needs a top-notch athletic facility. I know the new Convocation Center will be a welcomed addition to the campus and the community."

In addition to the field house, Bilray will demolish the concrete west grandstand at Meade Stadium, home of the URI football team. The field house was home to the Rams' and opposing team's locker rooms. Both were built in 1934 during legendary Frank Keaney's tenure, who at the time coached basketball, baseball and football.

Demolition is scheduled to be completed by early August.

When the Convocation Center is completed, the president's box, the athletics director's box, and six luxury boxes will have views of the arena inside the Convocation Center, as well as views of the 50-yard line. The building will have a brick and masonry exterior to complement the red brick exterior of Keaney Gymnasium. The structure, also designed with tall walls of glass windows, will contain three levels: the event level, the main concourse and the suite level. The event level will house the arena and event floor space; the main concourse will provide access to spectator facilities, including general seating, restrooms and concessions; the suite level will provide a venue for prime viewing and food service.

"Today is a milestone in the life of the University of Rhode Island," said Sally Dowling, chairman of the Board of Governors for Higher Education. "We are demolishing a structure, which has been a part of a rich history here at the University, in order to make way for something new and exciting. I and the other members of the Board of Governors are fortunate to be a part of this transition. The Convocation Center is not merely a building, it is a symbol of the Board's pride in the University and its commitment to the University's future."

"Although a long-standing need, a large capacity venue has never before been more critical to the University than it is today," added URI President Robert L. Carothers. "Today we are at the threshold of a project that will help us continue to attract and retain the highest caliber students. Along with other important building projects that address our academic and residential needs, the University is well on its way to providing a campus culture that meets students' expectations, in and out of the classroom."

The center is designed to host basketball games and other athletic contests, in addition to major university celebrations, such as commencement and convocation ceremonies, alumni programs, concerts and major cultural events that will benefit the campus and surrounding communities. Opening its doors for the first event in the fall of 2002, the center will seat 8,000 and stand 86 feet at its tallest point.

Thomas M. Ryan, chairman and chief executive officer of CVS Corp., a 1975 graduate of URI's College of Pharmacy, said today's event is a benchmark for URI, a world-class institution with a long and proud history of academic and athletic accomplishments. Ryan chairs the Convocation Center's Blue Ribbon Steering Committee with Gov. Almond.

"This arena is going to be a world-class, state-of-the-art facility that people can be proud of," Ryan said. "While this venue will be an exciting home for social, extracurricular, academic and cultural activities, it will also give our basketball programs the facility they deserve."

"I also believe that this facility will be an important part of our state's future," Ryan said.

"This event today will spark even more excitement in this project," said Robert M. Beagle, URI vice president for University Advancement. "We've felt the excitement building for several weeks. People know in a concrete way that this project is on the move."

Kathleen Mallon, director of strategic planning at URI and chair of the center's building committee, said today that people are looking forward to the opening of a facility that will feature a steep seating bowl that will put no seat more than 74 feet from the action.

"We tried to create the intimate feeling of Keaney Gym inside the arena bowl, understanding that our teams need the competitive advantage that Keaney provides," Mallon said. "In so doing, we also created a wonderful environment for concerts, cultural events and family shows."

One of Bilray's first tasks was the removal of a concession stand from the site of a former farm cemetery within the confines of Meade Field. The demolition work will not affect the cemetery site. The cemetery will be conserved and protected as a part of the Convocation Center design.

Before the demolition work began, Essex-Newbury Construction Co., Boston, Mass., gutted a recreational locker room in Keaney Gymnasium, which will serve as temporary quarters for the football team. Earlier this week, the company, headed by Middletown's Delano Joseph Brooks, URI graduate and former football star, removed the football lockers from the field house for installation in the temporary facility in Keaney. The 90 football lockers were donated two years ago by alumni. The lockers will be relocated in the new building.

J.H. Lynch & Sons, Inc., Cumberland, has begun installing fencing around the construction site, and relocating the two practice football fields.

Larry Bacher of Gilbane Building Co., the project's program manager, said the fields are being moved to the west. One of the fields will remain at full size, while the other one will be shortened to about 60 yards. Lynch will also be moving the goalposts and the observation tower for the coaches.

Bacher said the University is awaiting bid submittals from three construction companies for excavation, concrete, structural steel and pre-cast concrete work. Bacher said bids are expected to be opened by the end of July. The official groundbreaking is set for Oct. 14 during URI Homecoming activities. Construction will continue through the winter.

"We are on schedule, and I am pleased to be starting," said Bacher.

In a related part of the overall project, design work is beginning on the $12 million ice rink, which will house a National Hockey League-size ice surface and 2,500 seats. The rink will be located behind the tennis courts at the entrance to the Keaney Gym parking lot. Bacher said he hopes to begin construction on the ice rink in February 2001.

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For Information: Linda Acciardo 401-874-2116,
Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116


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