2017-03-09 / News

Biddeford residents: Preserve Waterhouse Field

By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer

Varsity head football coach Brian Curit expresses his thoughts on Waterhouse Field in Biddeford High School’s Little Theater on Monday, March 6. Next to him is Weston & Sampson Vice President Cheri Ruane. (Garrick Hoffman photo) Varsity head football coach Brian Curit expresses his thoughts on Waterhouse Field in Biddeford High School’s Little Theater on Monday, March 6. Next to him is Weston & Sampson Vice President Cheri Ruane. (Garrick Hoffman photo) BIDDEFORD – In the Little Theater of Biddeford High School, more than 50 people listened to discussion and provide input about Biddeford’s athletic fields.

The discussion was organized by Biddeford High School Principal Jeremie Sirois and facilitated by two employees of Weston & Sampson, a multidisciplinary and employee-owned firm based in Peabody, Massachusetts that was hired by Biddeford to conduct studies on its fields, Sirois said.

Superintendent Jeremy Ray said the company was hired for $27,000.

“This is really the start of something that could be outstanding,” Sirois said. “It started a couple years ago with us looking at Waterhouse (Field) and a group of people getting together to try to figure out the means for that facility. Over the last couple months this whole (school) committee elected to have a field study of all the fields in Biddeford.”

Weston & Sampson employees Michael Moonan and Cheri Ruane facilitated the discussion. Moonan is a team leader and landscape architect for the company, mainly in sports and recreation. Ruane, vice president of and fellow landscape architect for Weston & Sampson, said the company employs 450 people whose professions include civil engineers, storm water experts, soil experts, landscape architects and more.

“If there’s an issue, we got a guy or a woman for that,” Ruane said. “What it does for us landscape architects is it allows us to take an incredibly critical and broad view of these fields and really get down to the problems. Whether it’s drainage or soil structure, we have an expert to really get down to the bottom of what’s needed.”

Ruane said undertaking a citywide field study is a significant start for the community to understand what its resources and demands are.

“This is going to allow you guys to be incredibly well prepared for the future,” she said.

Ruane also wanted to assure the audience that her company doesn’t seek to take credit for its work on the fields for current and future generations.

“We don’t come in and look to leave our mark so that we leave and everyone’s like, ‘Well that was a Weston & Sampson job.’ We would like to leave and no one ever know that we were here, and just (know) that you have awesome fields.”

Moonan provided a Powerpoint presentation to highlight all the fields in Biddeford the company studied. These fields include the middle and high school fields, Doran Field, Hill Street Field, May Field, Rotary Park, St. Louis Field and Waterhouse Field.

The group of residents, sports coaches, students and school staff in the audience yielded an overwhelming agreement that Waterhouse Field should be preserved.

According to published reports, estimated costs for Waterhouse Field could run from between $3.4 million to $5.5 million, depending on upgrades. Moonan said the field could be renovated and continue to be used for the primary facility for the high school, or it could be built near the high school to replace the track facility.

Ray said there is no proposal to pay for the field’s upgrades. The plan is to look at the final report on the field when it is released, then confer with community leaders and officials for the best path.

“This is one of those situations where the study will make recommendations, the city will talk about it, and elected officials and voters will have an opportunity to talk about it. (The March 6 meeting) was truly about getting public input from people.”

Ray said there will be a survey that will come out in coming weeks to receive more input from the public, and after responses have been gathered, another meeting will take place, though its date is undetermined.

Waterhouse Field, constructed in 1929, has an 88-year history. It’s home to the annual Maine Shriners Lobster Bowl Football game, the largest annual football event in Maine, according to the History of Waterhouse Field on Biddeford’s website. Its locker room is named after former football head coach Mike Landry, who died in 2006.

Biddeford football coach Brian Curit said the field is used by all levels of football, is home to girls and boys soccer and lacrosse, and he hopes to see it be home to the girls field hockey team.

“I never want to see a moment idle at Waterhouse,” Curit said. “No one can boast the kind of history and tradition that Waterhouse has . . . My vision for Waterhouse Field is that it does have turf and that it’s used every single solitary day of the week. It’s a special place.”

Jimmy Smith, a Main Street resident, said he attended the meeting for reasons besides Waterhouse Field, but they became irrelevant when Waterhouse was brought up.

“I’m in the same fight with Coach Curit,” Smith said. “Moving football from Waterhouse Field sounds downright foolish to me.”

Smith, originally from Biddeford, has a 10-year-old son who plays football and a 13-year-old daughter who plays soccer, and he wishes to see both use Waterhouse Field.

Jim Godbout, president of the Waterhouse Field Alumni Association, said the field will require significant repair.

“You don’t just put a backhoe on it and dozer and grow grass,” he said. “This field needs about a million dollars worth of under structure work . . . You have three-quarters of a million dollars in Astroturf, you have bleachers that are going to be three-quarters of a million dollars, you have lights at $200,000 or $300,000, you have a sound system for $100,000. Guess what, you’re at $3.5 million very, very quickly without any building or capital improvements except field or safety.”

Godbout said the field’s existence and upkeep is principally attributed to the Waterhouse Field Association, a nonprofit that leases the field to the city for $1 per year. He said a base of volunteers has been around for a long time to ensure the field can be used for student athletes, but volunteering is the lowest it’s ever been.

“It’s time for the taxpayers to step up and do something about it,” Godbout said. “We are finding serious safety issues at this field . . . We own an insurance policy as a volunteer board, but we also have the city have a huge liability policy over there as well because there’s going to be an accident there, and if something isn’t done soon, we’re going to have to close more of this facility down. Something has to be done here.”

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