2017-05-04 / Front Page

Fields ‘maxed out,’ as resident tries new approach

By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – A presentation by consulting firm Weston & Sampson to an almost completely packed Little Theater at Biddeford High School revealed city fields are “maxed out,” according to the firm’s Vice President Cheri Ruane.

Weston & Sampson is a multidisciplinary firm based in Peabody, Massachusetts that was hired by Biddeford earlier this year for $27,000 to conduct studies on its fields.

The studies were conducted on all Biddeford fields this winter, including Doran Field, Hill Street Field, May Field, Rotary Park, St. Louis Field, Waterhouse Field and those at the high, primary, intermediate and middle schools.

“(After) looking at each and every field with each and every user group adding up hours, the end result was at those peak times, those grass fields, those multi-use, rectangular fields are maxed out to the point that the grass can’t sustain much more use without degrading. They’re maxed out of those usable hours, which are weekends and 3 p.m. to sunset if the field is not lit from fall to spring,” Ruane said.

Ruane said the firm received 219 responses after the firm issued a public survey to generate input from the city. The firm collated the responses into the results of the field studies, she said. The presentation also included suggestions for how Biddeford can improve the fields.

Among key pieces highlighted in the report were items related to gender equity, field use, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, field conditions and drainage, Ruane said.

There is a gender equity deficiency because boys’ sports teams tend to play on high-level premier fields, and girls do not, Ruane said. There are a lot of conflicts with field use when multiple high-level sports want to make use of a rectangular field in particular. Those with disabilities don’t have adequate access to the fields, so the city needs to provide greater equitable access to them so they can support their families and friends at sporting events. Finally, some field conditions were found to be poor – such as the bleachers and lighting at Waterhouse Field – and drainage is a “huge issue” in some fields such as the lower field at Biddeford High School and Doran Field, the former being reported to be wet frequently by survey respondents.

The track at high school is in disrepair as well, Ruane said, and an improvement would enable track and field teams to compete.

Respondents frequently noted a desire for more playgrounds and improved conditions of existing playgrounds, according to the report. Walking, biking and fitness trails and the connectivity between city resources were also listed, as well as picnic and seating areas.

Weston & Sampson representative Michael Moonan presented a variety of possible options – or “priority improvements” – for Biddeford. Among them would be making substantial renovations at the high school track and field, Doran Field, Intermediate School fields and Waterhouse Field, totaling more than $6 million.

“One major move of (renovating the track and the field at the high school) – this benefits all rectangular sports for practice – would allow field hockey to play at the high school,” Moonan said. “Then you go over to Doran Field and there are a couple of moves there; one is to renovate the rectangular field to make it a little better than it is now. I know it’s one of the better fields right now, but that would allow middle school field hockey to move over there.”

If the city was to pursue recommended initial renovations, high school and track renovations would total more than $2 million; Doran Field would come to $790,000; Intermediate School fields would be $480,000 and Waterhouse Field would be at least $2.5 million. More costs may be accrued after initial, priority improvements are made.

Gary Dion-Bernier, a Biddeford resident and coach, questioned whether the renovations would be necessary. He said four years ago the high school went through a major renovation and came in under budget of almost $2 to $2.5 million, and at the time the fields were not considered a priority to upgrade. Expenditures for renovations should have been spent at that time, he said.

He went on to comment about Waterhouse Field.

“The real question is going to turn into, ‘What does it take to open the field so the players can start using it again as quickly as possible?’” he asked to applause in the audience.

Moonan said the bleachers, an equitable playing surface such as synthetic turf, lighting and replacing the press box would be the highest priorities for the field to be played on again, a minimum cost of $2.25 million.

Jim Godbout, president of the Waterhouse Alumni Association, commented on what he wishes to see.

“I’m going to say one thing – this city has to take action,” he said. “Kids need a good, solid place to perform their athletics. Waterhouse Field is definitely it. Do we need to build a Taj Mahal? No, I don’t think so. Do we have safety issues? We absolutely have safety issues,” such as the bleachers and the playing surface, which is in poor condition because there’s four feet of elevation from one corner to the next, he said.

Godbout exhorted audience members to help with community efforts for the fields.

“I urge you all to take action, and let’s push to move forward. If we bring back positive influence to a field or facility in this place by volunteerism, that’s great . . . (but) the city does need to invest in the future of our students at Biddeford High and Biddeford Middle.”

The Biddeford City Council included an item on its Tuesday, May 1 agenda to schedule a date, time and place for a general meeting of citizens. The meeting will be the first since a city charter amendment was made last November wherein a moderator will be selected by a majority vote of citizens who attend the meeting.

In April, after the announcement of the closure of Waterhouse Field, Biddeford resident Missy Nolette- Bald began collecting signatures so a general meeting of citizens could be held to address “concerns of taxation without representation” and “neglect of Waterhouse Field and overzealous spending downtown,” according to the petition. Under Biddeford’s city charter, registered voters can call a general citizens meeting after gathering at least 100 signatures.

Nolette-Bald, who has a Facebook page titled, “Waterhouse Field Solutions,” recently donated money to the Biddeford School Department for Waterhouse Field in hopes it would be allocated for replacing bleachers, but it is unclear how much. The money can’t be used immediately, according to a post on the page.

“It truly isn’t that simple as just receiving money and buying upgraded items,” according to a post from the page. “There are multiple approval processes that have to go through, and none of those have happened yet. I can’t recite everything, but at this point I understand why the current money raised cannot be used, at least not yet.”

According a Biddeford School Department Facebook post, it is not as simple as one may think to take donated funds and allocate them wherever the department deems necessary. Additionally, there may be naming rights with Waterhouse Field, according to the post.

“Donors have contributed with specific naming opportunities should there be a renovation,” the post read. “They would like to see a complex that is equitable for all sports and is something that we can all be proud of. The current state of Waterhouse Field is more than just bad bleachers.”

Director of Community Outreach and Development Karen Chasse said $285,181 was donated to the school department for Waterhouse Field in 2016. Donors have the right to have their donations designated where they’d like their money to be spent, she said, though donating through the website as it currently stands does not allow a donor to specify where they’d like their money allocated. This will change in coming weeks as Chasse modifies the donation page, she said.

Also in coming weeks materials about donations will be published in The Bridge, a publication by the Biddeford School Department, for anyone who contributed in the last fiscal year.

Nolette-Bald, posting as Waterhouse Field Solutions, indicated that she had been in touch with a mason contractor who will donate labor to the field. However, because Nolette-Bald is not an authorized individual in the school department, and because there is no definite plan for repairs, the contractor’s labor is not finalized, though the labor may be authorized in the future by the school department, Chasse said.

Chasse said Nolette-Bald’s efforts are “very wellintentioned.”

Nolette-Bald was unavailable for comment.

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