2017-05-18 / Letters

Superintendent impressed by volunteer effort

To the editor:

Since 1929, Waterhouse Field has been at the heart of our community. From state championships to the annual Lobster Bowl to community events like La Kermesse, the field’s intimacy and character is truly unmatched in the state of Maine. As Biddeford works to make itself, once again, a “great city rising where the river falls,” the community must continue to invest in its infrastructure.

As early as 2011, city and education officials have sounded the alarm about necessary capital improvement needs at the city’s 88-year-old landmark. Given the nature of the unique private-public partnership that governs use of the field (it is privately held by the Waterhouse Commission, and leased to the city for $1 annually), some have encouraged us to take a conservative approach when it comes to capital investment. The school department’s budgets since I’ve become superintendent have been remarkably responsive to the taxpayer: annual increases have averaged less than 1 percent during the last four years. There simply hasn’t been enough room to make a significant investment in Waterhouse Field.

Then in early April, after receiving an engineering study commissioned by the school committee, I shared publicly that Waterhouse’s bleachers had been condemned.

We knew this day was coming, so for more than a year the Biddeford School Department has taken an entrepreneurial approach to try to rehabilitate Waterhouse. The schools are public institutions, but we’re utilizing the strategies of successful nonprofits to both serve our students and be responsive to taxpayers. After putting out the call for support, more than $285,000 was pledged to help save Waterhouse Field. To those who have given or are considering gifts, thank you.

While every dollar is certainly appreciated, a groundswell of volunteer support led by community stalwart Jim Godbout is underway.

Less than a month after announcing the closure of Waterhouse, Jim coordinated salvage of the press box that he and Biddeford students built two decades ago. And today, volunteers from both sides of the bridge heeded Jim’s call to help deconstruct the bleachers. More than 200 people showed up on Saturday with hammers, ladders, muscle and good cheer to help raze the facility’s 32-year-old bleacher system. Men, women and high school students from no fewer than three states rallied behind the effort. I cannot thank the community enough for this amazing show of support. In 20 years of serving schools in six communities, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

We will continue to work with the city council, Waterhouse Commission, Biddeford Athletic Association, our donors and other stakeholders to capitalize on the positive momentum that was on full display on this remarkable Saturday morning. Waterhouse is the most iconic of our fields and certainly generates a lot of passion. As we move forward, we will consider the other fields in need of improvement detailed in the study. To our many donors, volunteers and boosters, I can’t thank you enough. I am excited for the future of Waterhouse and the other fields that our community and students enjoy.

Jeremy Ray, superintendent Biddeford

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