2017-05-11 / News

Volunteers take lead on Waterhouse Field work

By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer

The Waterhouse Field press box sits behind the home-side bleachers after being removed by Jim Godbout, president of the Waterhouse Field Alumni Association. The press box will be repurposed for the next rendition of the field, Godbout said. (Garrick Hoffman photo) The Waterhouse Field press box sits behind the home-side bleachers after being removed by Jim Godbout, president of the Waterhouse Field Alumni Association. The press box will be repurposed for the next rendition of the field, Godbout said. (Garrick Hoffman photo) BIDDEFORD – Demolition work has begun at Waterhouse Field and more work is expected to be completed in coming weeks.

On Friday, May 5, Waterhouse Field Alumni Association President Jim Godbout dismantled the press box with equipment he rented.

Godbout acquired a demolition permit through the city of Biddeford, and the total expenditures for removing the press box amounted to more than $2,000, he said, an expense he personally incurred.

“Where things haven’t been moving so much, I took it upon myself to start the demolition process so we can get this field ready for the fall,” he said. “It’s a commitment to the community. The school has no money at this point of time to do anything. I’m trying to bring back the community thing that I saw 20, 25 years ago when I did a lot of this work. It’s just not there.”

The press box will be repurposed, Godbout said, and installed in the next rendition of the field, though he’s unsure whether it’ll be ready by fall because a frame still needs to be assembled for it. Godbout constructed the press box more than 20 years ago with the help of construction technology students and other friends of his, whom he refers to as “The Silent Generation,” because they were individuals who were committed to and did work for the field but are now dead.

Work on the field was authorized after members of the Waterhouse Field Alumni Association met and conferred with one another about the next steps for the field. They agreed that demolition should begin immediately because of safety issues.

The Waterhouse Field Alumni Association is a nonprofit that owns and leases the field to the city for $1 per year. As a result, Godbout has the authority to spearhead demolition projects.

Godbout said money donated to the field wasn’t used for the work because that money is allocated for rebuilding the field, not demolition.

In coming weeks, there will be a sizable volunteer-lead effort to work on the field, Godbout said. On Saturday, May 13 – weather permitting – Godbout and a group of volunteers will disassemble the home-side bleachers, with the visitors’ side following sometime after.

Superintendent Jeremy Ray said after the bleachers are disassembled they will be taken to a recycling center, and the press box will be stored at the field until it is repurposed.

He said he and Godbout speak often about the project, and the city and school are lucky to have people like him.

“We are absolutely fortunate to have somebody like Jim,” he said. “The school department is so thankful for someone like Jim who has taken volunteer efforts by the horn, and by doing that, it is potentially saving thousands and thousands of dollars in demolition costs” for the city and school.

Godbout, posting as Pool Street Market on its Facebook page on Sunday, May 7, announced a formal date for volunteer efforts. Work will go from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Godbout said he is looking for a “very large volunteer staff” with varying skills and tools such as adjustable wrenches and stepladders.

“This can be dangerous work. This structure is much worse than the engineers talked about in the field report. Long overdue,” he wrote.

Waivers will need to be signed for insurance purposes prior to any work performed, he wrote.

He’s unsure how much money the entire demolition process will require, he said.

Ray said a fund will be set up to put toward demolition costs that may occur in the future. The city and school may have to contribute financially, he said, but for now costs will be allayed by volunteers.

“Hopefully we’ll ride that wave of goodwill from community members who want to help out,” he said.

The demolition marks what Godbout said was “phase one” of the process, as more work will follow in the coming weeks with the help of 50 to 100 volunteers, he said.

Godbout is trying to keep the community updated via social media, he said, and has already reached out to a number of people to participate in volunteering.

Godbout said when the field was active it saw 100 hours of play per year. He hopes to see the field expand so it can be used for field hockey and soccer teams, and get 500 to 600 hours of play per year, he said. The field is inactive for the season, and teams that would normally use it in the spring are playing on University of New England fields.

On May 2, the Biddeford City Council was to schedule a date for a general meeting of citizens to address “concerns of taxation without representation” and “neglect of Waterhouse Field and overzealous spending downtown,” according to a petition forwarded to the city by Biddeford resident Missy Nolette-Bald. The council unanimously decided to table it until after the city budget is approved, which is to be determined.

In April, after the announcement of the closure of Waterhouse Field, Nolette-Bald submitted the petition with at least 100 signatures from Biddeford voters that called for a general citizens meeting, which city officials are now required to hold according to its city charter. The meeting requires city officials to be present, and the moderator is selected by a majority of participating citizens. The meeting will be the first of its kind since Biddeford residents approved the charter amendment in November that allows the moderator to be selected by majority vote.

Nolette-Bald, posting as Waterhouse Field Solutions on Facebook on May 2, criticized the city council after she discovered the meeting was tabled.

“I am typing this very frustrated, confused, that feeling of, ‘How dare you Biddeford City Council,’ she wrote. “Well over 100 Biddeford residents signed a petition, signed to stand beside me to show support for our youth. They have made me feel that residents’ (and) voters’ issues or concerns have no value to them; they made me feel that being a resident here means you have no voice. They made me feel that if I need to address something, they determine the validity of it. They made me feel that if you live in Biddeford, you are worthless. This is unacceptable. The people we vote for, pay for, decided we are useless.”

However, the day after, Nolette-Bald said she was contacted by Mayor Alan Casavant to help her understand the process of arranging the meeting, saying his offer was genuine and helpful.

“He stated – I am paraphrasing; this is not verbatim – that mid-week next week we will have more clarity and (be) confident a solution will be found,” she wrote. “He also stated that since my request for the meeting was approximately 24 hours after it was read from the agenda, they need to choose a date with at least seven days’ notice to the public. They are tentatively going to plan for May 16 for a date to give me. I will tell you, this still makes me very unhappy to go that long, but that’s just me.

“We want direct answers from the city,” she continued. “Let’s start there, and get what we need as a community for our kids . . . 100 percent for our kids.”

Casavant said complications arose for the mid-week timetable because city council lost a budget day on Monday, May 8 due to inadequate presence of councilors for a budget meeting.

“We are going to try to wrap things up on Wednesday, (May 10), after the public hearing on the school budget, but all of that depends upon time,” he said. “If there is no time, then we meet on Thursday to finish up, and if we do that, we then have to schedule the first reading and public hearing on the city budget, as well as the second reading.”

Nothing in the charter indicates when the council must set the date and time for the citizens meeting, as far as he’s aware, he said. He still does not know which days are open for a meeting because all are dependent on the budget cycle, he said, but it should be more clear by the end of the week.

There may be available money to put toward the field based on early indication from refinancing the school bond, he said. The city council had attempted to refinance the bond last fall, but the election of Donald Trump changed the bond market so it was not in the city’s best interest to do so.

“Recently, our bond counsel indicated that the time might be right to once again pursue that avenue, and that is what we are doing . . . so the school department and city are actively working on solutions,” he said.

Nolette-Bald was unavailable for comment.

Return to top