2017-06-22 / News

Residents have their say about Waterhouse Field

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

The deconstructed bleachers at Waterhouse Field, which closed in April. Superintendent Jeremy Ray said he was unwilling to rent a new set of bleachers, which would have cost $70,000. He said Biddeford coaches were happy to play on turf fields at UNE but hopes to have new bleachers in by mid-October. (Grant McPherson photo) The deconstructed bleachers at Waterhouse Field, which closed in April. Superintendent Jeremy Ray said he was unwilling to rent a new set of bleachers, which would have cost $70,000. He said Biddeford coaches were happy to play on turf fields at UNE but hopes to have new bleachers in by mid-October. (Grant McPherson photo) BIDDEFORD – A general meeting of citizens took place in Biddeford Council Chambers to discuss public concerns that surrounded Waterhouse field. The meeting was scheduled after Biddeford resident Missy Colette-Bald collected 100 signatures per a recent change in the city’s charter.

Nolette-Bald said her involvement initially began with a comment on social media asking why there was money for a parking garage and not for Waterhouse Field. She said despite the fact she never played there, the field is an important aspect of the community and to her father especially, who donated much of his time helping to assemble the bleachers. Nolette- Bald said she felt frustrated and wanted an opportunity to have her questions answered.

“Is there a better plan we can put in place?” Nolette-Bald said at the meeting on Monday, June 19. Thirty-five people attended Monday’s meeting including city officials and residents.

Nolette-Bald said the city should have dealt with this problem a long time ago. She said after the field closed in April she wants to know how long it will be before it reopens. She said she wants to make sure problems like this can be avoided in the future so her sons can have an opportunity to play on Waterhouse Field.

Biddeford Superintendent Jeremy Ray said manufacturing bleachers takes time, but if approved by the city hopes to have new ones installed by mid-October. He said there was confusion surrounding ownership of Waterhouse Field. Ray said in the late 2000s the athletic association started making much less money at the field and as a result improvements to it stopped being made.

“The school committee asked for a plan, we got an opinion from an engineer,” Ray said. “We were forced to deal with it; I can’t speak about the past.”

Nolette-Bald said the city didn’t do enough to reach out to residents to discuss what the public desire was. She said people were shocked to see the field closed and many students look forward to playing the Lobster Bowl on Waterhouse Field. Nolette-Bald said she wanted to make sure there would be funding to replace lost revenue for school uniforms.

“It is important to these kids,” Nolette-Bald said.

Ray said the city can borrow bleachers from neighboring communities to make sure events like the Lobster Bowl can happen in the future. Next year’s Lobster Bowl, however, is slated to be held at Thornton Academy. He said the gymnasium is a space that could generate revenue as well. Ray said once a new field is put in, possibly a turf field, Biddeford will have the opportunity to host Western Maine State Championship events, another way the community can raise money.

“You don’t have to build things the same to be legendary,” Ray said. “It can be special in a different way and have just as much excitement in the community.”

Nolette-Bald said the recent addition of flower pots on Main Street represented another example of the lack of communication between the city and residents. She said the flower pots bothered her because of the cost to install and water them and because they won’t last beyond mid- September. She said that money should have been used for bleachers. The city spent $27,500 to fund the most recent downtown beautification projects.

“How many other project plans will end up like Waterhouse?” Nolette-Bald said. “It’s inappropriate spending.”

City Manager Jim Bennett said the flower pots were part of a larger capital improvement plan that was initiated two years ago. Bennett said a potential investor recently visited Biddeford and said the flower pots made the town look like a community that cares. Bennett said the investment deal is not confirmed, but it is valued at $10 million. He said he is focused on providing jobs in the community.

“It’s never as simple as it looks,” Bennett said. “You can think it’s a total waste of money, we live in a democracy. But I am always about trying to make this community work.”

Nolette-Bald said the city doesn’t do enough to engage residents and gauge public interest. She said she is too busy working and raising two sons to be able to attend a 6 p.m. city council meeting every week. Nolette-Bald said she wanted to hold the citizens meeting so future projects wouldn’t be handled in the same way Waterhouse Field was. She said she wants to help but does not want to be a politician.

“You want me involved, you got to get us involved,” she said. “I would go (to meetings) if they accommodated voters.”

Councilor-at-large Laura Seaver said the meetings are televised and available online on demand. She said every councilor’s phone number, email and home address is available online, adding that she and fellow councilors are happy to be in contact with constituents.

“We all have jobs too,” Seaver said. “We’re doing the best we can to represent based on our own schedules.”

Ward 2 Councilor John McCurry said he was the only one speaking out for Waterhouse Field when it came up at a previous school board meeting and was surprised when no one else brought up the issue. He said he was surprised to see the field shut down but nobody wanted to raise taxes. McCurry said a lot of things within the budget are in disarray, but when taxes don’t go up the first thing cut was capital spending.

“There’s not a whole lot of money,” McCurry said. “Only about 4 or 5 percent is discretionary spending in the budget. Most of it’s already spent on city wages, salaries and benefits.”

Ward 1 Councilor Michael Swanton said previous city councils had kicked the can down the road in terms of spending planning. Swanton said because of this the bell tower at city hall is in need of replacement as well. He said he became a city councilor when he saw clear cutting on Route 9 and wanted to become involved.

“If you want to know what’s going on you have to show up to meetings,” Swanton said.

Nolette-Bald said she felt the meeting went well. She said she was able to be heard on behalf of Biddeford residents and hopes a plan can be agreed upon for the future. She said she shouldn’t have been the one bringing attention to this issue; it should have been city representatives.

“I hope they’re going to realize residents have a different view on the level of involvement,” Nolette-Bald said.

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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