UMaine Finds a Good Fit in New Balance

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umaine400.gifStudents' running shoes are not the only place you'll find the New Balance name at the University of Maine, Orono. The school renamed its rec facility (pictured left) as the New Balance Student Recreation and Fitness Center in May, after the athletic shoe manufacturer gifted $5 million to UMaine.

The gift will be split between various campus projects—$2 million has been designated for a matching challenge grant to fund renovations to the school's field house and a considerable portion of the remaining $3 million will be used as an endowment fund for the maintenance of Maine's rec center.

Not a bad deal for the recreation department, especially considering it was UMaine's athletics director, Steve Abbott, who initially approached New Balance—about making a financial contribution towards the upcoming renovation of the UMaine Field House and Memorial Gym athletics facilities.

When I spoke to Abbott recently for another story, he told me how it happened: Representatives from New Balance visited the campus to see the field house, but they were so impressed by the four-year-old rec center that they wanted to be involved in its success, too.

It was an unexpected bonus, but Abbott says it makes perfect sense that New Balance would be interested in student recreation. In addition to offering the usual recreational fitness and sports facilities, UMaine's rec center, which was built with a $25 million bond issue, also serves as a hub for several outdoor trails for running, cycling and cross-country skiing—activities that are very much in line with the active lifestyle that New Balance promotes. (And is in line with an outdoor fitness focus at a growing number of rec centers.)

When the field house renovations are completed in 2012, it will bear the New Balance name, too. Abbott says that the Boston-based company's dedication to domestic production, the New England community and philanthropy makes New Balance a name the university is proud to be associated with.

“It's a situation where they reflect our values, and we're hoping to reflect their values,” he says. “It's a great match.”

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