LOWELL -- The evolution is now complete at UMass Lowell. Since 1998, the university has been updating their athletic facilities, moving into the 21st century with fields and complexes among the most prized jewels in the area.
Tsongas Arena houses River Hawk hockey, and the baseball team plays home games at LeLacheur Park. River View Field is designated to host the Northeast-10 softball tournament every year, and Cushing Field was outfitted with new bleachers and a new artificial turf. In 2002, the $19.5 million Campus Recreation Center was opened.
Now, with a team effort from administrators, coaches, and students, the one diamond that remained in the rough -- Costello Gymnasium -- has finally gotten the much-needed facelift that should make it a better facility for athletes and spectators.
"There's virtually no part of the gym that hasn't been renovated," UMass Lowell athletic director Dana Skinner says. "It's certainly a new facility for us."
Constructed in 1967, Costello is the home to the main athletic department offices as well as several coaches' offices. The building has been upgraded floor-by-floor for several years, but there was no doubt the gym was going to be a large project.
The floor of the court itself was practically built right over cement, putting added strain on the joints of student-athletes.
On top of that, thanks to the cement walls and poor acoustics, depending on where a person sat in the gym, the sound system fluctuated between either sounding as if someone was blasting music in your ear or a muffled whisper.
At every home game wires were run from various offices across the gym in order to plug in laptops for the sports information staff, as well as visiting members of the press.
Aesthetically, the dark dingy stone ceiling and the rundown bleachers left the gym a few steps away from a dungeon.
That all changed this spring and summer.
Renovations began as soon as basketball season ended, but now the gym looks like someone took 50 years worth of rust off.
"Renovating the gym itself was really the last phase, and to be honest, I wasn't sure it was going to happen," Skinner says.
The gray stone is now coated with paint, the new River Hawk logo is displayed prominently at mid-court as well as on the side wall. Paneling has been installed on the walls and the ceiling to allow sound to carry and create an atmosphere more conducive to athletics, as opposed to before when it was more like yelling into a cave. Phone jacks and power outlets now line the walls.
And then there's the floor. Asbestos was found when removing the old floor and the entire section of the building needed to be blocked off, but in the end River Hawks players now have cushion under them and not just what amounted to painted cement.
The new floor has about 44 percent absorption whereas the old floor had anywhere from 0 to 3 percent, according to associate athletic director Peter Casey.
The price tag on the renovations came to about $750,000. A large portion of the funding was raised through an online auction that included everything from cruises to Red Sox tickets.
Skinner says a lot of credit for making things happen has to go to facilities manager Jean Robinson as well as Casey. Several student athletes and coaches also joined Skinner and Casey in rolling up their sleeves and painting the walls to the gym themselves.
"It really was a great cooperative effort with a lot of university officials," Casey says. "Dave Kiser (director of physical plant) and Rich Lemoine (assistant director of environmental and health services) were very instrumental."
New bleachers should be installed within the next 10 days, and new banners should be hanging shortly thereafter.
The volleyball team will host the first intercollegiate competitions in the newly-renovated gym this weekend as they host a weekend tournament.