NORTH ANDOVER — Merrimack College officials broke ground on a new athletic district Friday, which will include a new multi-purpose stadium and several other facility upgrades for most of Merrimack’s outdoor athletic teams.
The centerpiece of the project, which is part of the college’s Together for Good fundraising campaign, is a 2,500-seat stadium that will be located directly across from the existing Volpe Athletic Complex. The stadium will have a capacity of more than 4,000 fans, including other seating areas and standing room, as well as luxury suites, and will be the new home for Merrimack’s commencement ceremonies each spring.
Ed. Note — This story will also appear in Saturday’s Eagle Tribune
The new stadium will also include a track around the perimeter, giving Merrimack’s track and field program its first on-campus home in program history.
“(The track athletes) are all really excited,” said Merrimack track and field coach Jacky Mendes. “I think some of them don’t believe it’s real. They’re not here, so I’ve been sending them a lot of pictures.”
The track team, which has enjoyed national recognition with the successes of sprinter Carly Muscaro, has never had a facility to practice on campus. Instead, the team would use local facilities to train throughout the offseason and mid-season, and they were never able to host meets.
“Just not having to drive off campus for everything is going to make our athletes feel more part of the athletic department,” Mendes said. “To be able to go right from the training room and walk down to our track for practice, it’s going to be such a huge help for us.”
Other portions of the district project includes work to the existing baseball diamond, as well as a new turf field at the existing Martone-Mejail Field. Part of that new turf design will include an all-turf softball field that will be part of the existing Martone-Mejail Field.
The campaign and project is one of several improvements on the campus since Dr. Christopher E. Hopey took over as college president.
“We are breaking ground today on what will be a truly outstanding track, field and stadium,” Hopey stated. “But its primary purpose — as with all the new buildings and major renovations we have seen on our campus — is as a signifier, of what we can accomplish and what we will accomplish, together. What truly defines Merrimack is not the things we build, but the people we build — and not the process of construction, but the fact that it is a community effort.”
The complex will include a new sound system, as well as a state-of-the-art scoreboard. The facility will also include an eight-lane, 400-meter track that will surround the field, with all field events being incorporated within the facility as well.
Merrimack football coach Dan Curran said that the stadium has already helped in his team’s recruiting, and that’s only likely to increase now that the construction project has finally begun.
According to several speeches during the ceremony, the first event at the stadium could be the Homecoming football game on Oct. 14.
“It’s going to take our program, which is already a great product, it’s going to take us to another level,” Curran said. “We recruit kids who worry about more than just what the stadium looks like, and we pride ourselves on the those character kids, but there’s no question a stadium like this is going to help us attract more players. It already has. I’m so lucky to be here with President Hopey and Jeremy Gibson, and the rest of our staff who turned this into a reality, because it’s going to be special.”
On Friday, after the speaking program concluded, machines fired back up and more ground prep was underway. The old turf has already been removed from Martone-Mejail Field, and most of the grounds near where the new stadium will sit has been cleared out.
“Obviously, having a facility like this to call our own will be a huge recruiting tool and will help us continue to attract the top-tier student-athletes nationwide, ones that will help us achieve the high goals we have for our programs,” said Merrimack men’s lacrosse coach Mike Morgan, whose team was just in the Division II national championship game last month. “From an aesthetics standpoint, the new stadium will make a for great environment for our home games, and the larger capacity will help in handling the larger crowds we have become accustomed to drawing. We’re all incredibly excited to play there next spring and beyond.”