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$10 million upgrade underway at UMD’s Romano Gym

An artist's rendering of the renovated Romano Gym on the UMD campus. (Image courtesy of UMD Athletics)

The home of UMD basketball, volleyball and more for almost 64 years will be getting its biggest upgrade to date with Monday's announcement of a $10 million renovation.

"It's exciting to have a facility that is going to fit the excellence of our student-athletes and our institution," University of Minnesota Duluth Athletic Director Josh Berlo told the News Tribune. "It's going to be a top-notch competitive facility and a top-notch educational facility essential to our success."

The bulk of the phased reconstruction — the second phase — will take place beginning in March after the start of spring break. Construction will run through September, displacing teams and students throughout that time as a new floor goes in along with the installation of new chair-back lower-level seating and an updated heating and air-conditioning system.

"The improvements demonstrate the athletic department's commitment to make UMD one of the premier Division II athletic programs in the country for our Bulldog student-athletes," UMD volleyball coach Jim Boos said in a university news release. "In addition, it allows our coaches to have even more to show recruits, on top of the countless other great attributes that UMD and Duluth have to offer."

Of the total costs, $1.8 million is coming from a University of Minnesota fund dedicated to updating existing infrastructure called Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement. Another $5.2 million is from UMD and University of Minnesota renovation and restoration funding.

Phase One of the reconstruction is already in progress thanks to $1 million in athletic department fundraising. It includes the completed addition of a $300,000 video board and the ongoing rebuild of men's and women's basketball locker rooms.

After Phase Two is finished next year, a third and final phase figures to be completed sometime in 2020 and includes the addition of a 15-seat club and hospitality room for what the news release called "an upscale patron experience." Also in the final phase, the gym lobby and atrium will be updated, there will be locker room renovations for women's volleyball and soccer, baseball, softball, track/cross country and football, and upgrades made to the training, rehabilitation and strength and conditioning facilities.

The project will require additional fundraising, Berlo said.

"In order to do everything we desire we need about another $2 million," Berlo said.

Berlo said updating Romano Gym was a need before he arrived in 2013 and a priority since then.

"We immediately began looking at options," he said. "The floor is beyond its useful date. The lack of climate control in there creates problems."

The endeavor required a numerous lobbying trips to the State Capitol to help secure the bulk of the state university system funding, he said.

Berlo was quick to say the improvements benefit more than just athletes. The building is in use daily — from before sunrise until well into the evening, he said.

"There are teachers learning to be teachers in that space," he said. "There are intramural and club sports booked during most of the normal hours. It's the largest indoor gathering space on our campus."

New students gather in Romano Gym every fall to hear a welcome from university leadership, he added, and high school tournaments inhabit the gym every school year, too.

Among the biggest upgrades will be the lower-level seating, which will be able to collapse into the wall in the traditional manner, but also feature spring-loaded chair backs for better spectator comfort, more bump-outs for accessible seating and hand railings to make it easier for everyone to get to their seats. The upper-level seating will be left alone, save for the addition of the club seating that will cut into some existing upper-level space.

The modernization also will include themed graphics — heavy on the maroon and gold and leaving no doubt that the gym is indeed Bulldog Country.

"We're incredibly exciting to see it come together," Berlo said. "It's an important gathering place."

Romano opened in 1953 with a men's basketball victory. Since then, the men's and women's basketball teams have won more than 75 percent of their games in the gym, with the volleyball team victorious in 86 percent of its home matches.

The facility seats 2,759. It received a $2 million upgrade in the mid-1980s, and another makeover a few years later when it was renamed in honor of the late Ralph Romano, who was the athletic director from 1969 to 1983.

Berlo said the Romano update figures to join with UMD hockey programs' Amsoil Arena as facilities which can elevate the programs to be the best in their respective divisions.

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