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  • Writer's picturePaul Baker

Northeastern to Replace Matthews Arena

In news that was both surprising and expected, recent documents released by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs show that Northeastern University is moving forward with plans to replace historic Matthews Arena. Matthews is the home of the school’s hockey and basketball teams, as well as the original home of the Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, the Beanpot Tournament and virtually every hockey program in and around Boston.

The university is currently “explor[ing] opportunities to build a new arena in the near future,” a spokesperson for the university recently stated to Amelia Ballingall of the Huntington News. “Matthews Arena is more than a century old and is reaching the end of its useful life. It has recently undergone structural modifications that will temporarily extend its use. Simultaneously, the university has been making long-term assessments regarding the increasing demand for state-of-the-art athletic and recreational facilities and the existing building’s limitations to meet them.”

More specific details regarding a new facility were not made clear, but concerns have arisen recently about Matthews Arena’s stability. Steel scaffolding was put up on the west side of the building in 2024, offices in that part of the facility were moved and seating was roped off without explanation.

The environmental engineering firm Haley & Aldrich has reported concentrations of lead, asbestos and other toxic chemicals within the soil on the grounds of Matthews Arena. The parking lot bordering Gainsborough Street is scheduled to be completely uprooted, with 5,000 cubic yards of soil removed.

The land on which Matthews Arena sits was once part of Boston’s original wharf, which was replaced with man-made-land in the late 1800s. The land contains high concentrations of clay, which expands when wet and contracts when dry, and sand, which shifts easily and can be damaging to structures. The bedrock underneath the arena has weathered over time and may not be as sturdy as needed. Debris from the row houses that once stood on the site further contaminates the soil.

A large renovation or construction project at the Matthews Arena site would be disruptive to the neighboring Orange Line and the New England Conservatory, not to mention the Northeastern athletic teams that call the facility home.

While the men’s basketball team would likely join the Huskies’ women’s team at Cabot Center, the hockey teams would likely have to use a temporary home (Warrior Ice Arena and Walter Brown Arena have been mentioned as possibilities), or play on the road for a year or two.

The historic value of Matthews Arena is also a concern. The facility is the original home of the Bruins, the Whalers (now Carolina Hurricanes), and an early home of the Celtics. The first NHL game in the United States was played here. Matthews Arena is the oldest hockey rink in the world. How a new facility would respect the historic nature of the site has to be taken into consideration.

Space is very limited on the Northeastern campus and surrounding neighborhoods. Considerations on where to put a new facility are multi-faceted. The best plan may be to tear down Matthews Arena and build a new facility from the ground up on the same site. This appears to be the tact that the school is taking. Rumors abound that the 2024-25 season will be the last for this historic rink.

While the future of this old barn is unclear at this time, one thing is certain: time is running out for historic Matthews Arena.

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