The hockey barn that Union calls home is getting more than a new coat of paint.
A video scoreboard, seating — with backs — that is closer to the boards and a new concession area are part of a $10 million renovation plan for Messa Rink at Union College, officials said.
The college has approved fundraising to renovate the nearly 41-year-old facility, Union athletic director Jim McLaughlin said. There is no timetable yet for the project, in part because all the money will come from donations.
“It will be all fund-raised, just like the majority of our capital improvements on campus,” McLaughlin said.
The project is slated to include:
— A new video scoreboard.
— A new entrance across from Bailey Field.
— A new floor for the ice surface, along with new boards and glass.
— New coaches' offices.
— New seating. Many of the seats in the lower level will go right to the glass. The lower-level seats will have back support. The upper-level seating will be bleacher seats.
— A hospitality room that will look out not only at the rink, but Bailey Field.
— New concession stands and bathrooms on both sides of the rink.
“Our plan is to make sure we have the right amenities for our fans to have a terrific experience,” McLaughlin said. “We have a terrific product on the ice, but we need to make sure that we service our fans and alumni well.”
Union has contracted Clough, Harbour & Associates to help with the refurbishing. Among the facilities the company helped design and build are the Times Union Center (it was known as Knickerbocker Arena when it opened in 1990) and Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.
“We’ve been looking at this for the past couple of years,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve been working with Clough, Harbour & Associates. We have gone through a few iterations on designs. They’ve come back with something that we feel good about.
“We just feel that it’s time. This is a building that was built in the mid ’70s for one Division III program. Through that 40-year period, it’s now housing two Division I programs. It’s just time to take a look at upgrades to the rink.”
McLaughlin hopes the funds can be raised soon so that the project can get underway.
“We want this done as quickly as possible,” McLaughlin said. “We want to make sure that we do it in a fiscally responsible way. That’s how we’ve always done things on this campus, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Messa Rink, first known as Achilles Rink, opened in 1975, when Union re-started its men’s hockey program. The facility underwent improvements starting in the summer of 2003 and completed the following year. A new cooling system, boards and glass, locker rooms and the conversion of a storage area downstairs, which had been a curling rink, to a reception area were among the major projects. The rink was renamed after Union alum Frank Messa, who donated a gift to the college.
Union coach Rick Bennett is thrilled that Messa Rink will be getting a much-needed facelift.
“It’s a really exciting time to be a part of Union hockey, especially as a player,” Bennett said. “It’s a feel-good thing. Hopefully, it’s going to happen here soon. For all the alums and the players, the buzz around campus is going to be an exciting time.”
In recent years, other ECACH teams have either refurbished or built a new facility. Quinnipiac’s High Point Solutions Arena opened Jan. 27, 2007. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Houston Field House, which opened in 1949, underwent renovations between 2008 and 2010. Clarkson is scheduled to make improvements to Cheel Arena, which opened in 1991. Colgate is building a new facility that will open next season to replace 57-year-old Starr Rink.
“I don’t feel we went into this trying to keep up with the Joneses,” Bennett said. “I feel we needed to correct some things. This was more about Union College and Union hockey than worrying about others. I feel that’s the way the school has always gone about its business. It’s gone about its business in a right way. The way they’re approaching this is first class.
“I know when that shovel goes in the ground, the right plan is in place.”