2017-12-28 / Front Page

2017: The Courier’s year in review

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

Ryan Sommer will be the new Saco Parks and Recreations director, pending council approval Jan. 2. Sommer was most recently the executive director of the Community Center in North Conway, New Hampshire. (Courtesy photo) Ryan Sommer will be the new Saco Parks and Recreations director, pending council approval Jan. 2. Sommer was most recently the executive director of the Community Center in North Conway, New Hampshire. (Courtesy photo) At the end of each year, the Courier looks back at the most interesting stories published during the last 12 months. Take a look back at 2017 with eight memorable news stories and updates that shaped the year for Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach.

SACO – Two former parks and recreation department employees were charged with a Class D crime and summonsed to appear in court January 2018.

Former Director of Programs Kevin Lombard and former department Director Joseph Hirsch were charged Wednesday, Nov. 1 with Criminal Invasion of Computer Privacy, which is punishable by up to 364 days incarceration or a $2,000 fine. They’re scheduled to appear in Biddeford District Court on Wednesday, Jan. 17. Both men left the department Friday, Oct. 20. While Hirsch had planned to retire, Lombard was terminated. Corey Morong, a recreation programmer, was also terminated the same day but not charged.

According to Morong, Lombard had access to a seasonal parks and recreation employee’s personal iMessages on a city-owned iPad.

Morong said Lombard called Morong into his office in January and read aloud the personal messages. Morong eventually informed the fellow employee on Sept. 27 that his messages were being read by Lombard. The next day, human resources placed Morong on leave until he met with City Administrator Kevin Sutherland Wednesday, Oct. 18, which was when Sutherland informed Morong he was fired.

“(Sutherland) told me at first he needed to shake the department up,” Morong said. “I did not like that answer. I asked for a better explanation. He said, ‘Corey you knew for so long.’ When it’s your boss it’s a fine line. I don’t want to be insubordinate. I apologize for listening and not saying something sooner. It was a horrible spot to be put in. Why (Lombard) ever called me in I don’t know.”

The seasonal employee did not return a request for comment.

On Oct. 19 Sutherland sent a memo to families with children in after school programs that said two parks and recreation department employees had left the organization. According to a Freedom of Access Act request filed Oct. 31 by The Courier, The memo was sent to nearly 1,000 email addresses. In an email to The Courier, Sutherland declined to speak about the matter.

“The city does not discuss personnel matters,” he wrote. “No further comment.”

Lombard did not respond to a request for comment.

According to a Freedom of Access Act request filed Oct. 31 by The Courier, Sutherland responded to three emails from residents expressing their dismay over the memo they received.

Melissa Nadeau, a Saco resident, wrote to Sutherland about the lack of information and her support for Lombard.

“I have known Kevin for almost a decade,” she wrote. “He made amazing relationships with kids and adults of all ages and earned a whole lot of respect along the way. I have volunteered my time as a team parent, helped with banquets and rode the bus at parades. I was giving my time in support of Kevin’s tireless work and commitment to our community. I fear the future of Saco Parks and Recreation. This wrong needs to be made right. And the people of Saco are owed a better explanation.”

Sutherland sent a similar response to each individual.

“I do understand that the message the community received was rather vague and ambiguous,” Sutherland wrote in an Oct. 30 response to one concerned resident. “Please understand that legally, I am not at liberty to discuss or disclose any personnel matters and kept the letter that way in an attempt to protect those employees. Unfortunately, I am unable to provide additional details.”

A letter from the Maine Department of Labor Bureau of Employment Security stated Morong was justified in not reporting Lombard’s behavior sooner.

“Based on the totality of the circumstances presented, it has been determined that the employer may have made a sound business decision, however no misconduct can be found on the part of the claimant.”

“Obviously I wish things went differently,” Morong said. “We moved to this city because of this work. The more people I’ve talked to the more I realize this is very wrong. I want people to know what’s happened so it doesn’t happen to other people.”

The city announced on Dec. 22 it had chosen Ryan Sommer as the new parks and recreation director. The city council will decide his appointment on Jan. 2. Sommer has worked in Saco before as the recreation technician for five years and comes most recently from North Conway.

“I look forward to continuing to build new programs and working with the excellent staff in the Parks and Recreation Department,” said Sommer in a press release. “They are dedicated and take pride in the work they do and it shows by all the wonderful programs that are being offered today.”

Sommer work for 12 years at the Community Center in North Conway, New Hampshire as the executive director. He has also worked as the community service director in Ogunquit.

“I am excited about coming back to work for the city where my career began in Parks and Recreation,” said Sommer. “I felt like my heart was always here. To be able to return and lead the Parks and Recreation Department will be a dream come true.”

“We are excited to have Ryan Sommer join our phenomenal senior leadership team and talented Parks and Recreation staff,” said Sutherland. “His experience matches the needs of our growing community and will strengthen an already great team.”

The city did not comment on whether it had hired a new director of programs or recreation programmer.

SACO – A lawsuit filed last year over planned development on River Bend Farm proceeded to a court hearing on a motion for judgment on the key legal matter.

The suit, which was filed in April last year by River Bend Farm’s previous owner Thomas Merrill, concerned the farm property at 184 Simpson Road, formerly owned by the late Mary Merrill. The farm was owned by Thomas Merrill and his wife by virtue of a bequest from Mary Merrill – Thomas Merrill’s aunt – when she died in 2005. However, before that bequest, in 1998, Mary Merrill granted a conservation easement on most of the property to Saco Valley Land Trust. The conservation easement means, among other things, that the trust has the right to prohibit commercial development on the farm.

When The Ecology School, a Saco nonprofit conservation school based at Ferry Beach, approached Merrill and Saco Valley Land Trust about developing the farm into a new site for the school, Merrill was on board but the trust ultimately rejected the plan as not in accordance with the conservation easement, according to the parties’ filings in Alfred Superior court.

After the school got a necessary contract zone agreement approved by the Saco City Council – against resistance from members of the trust’s board – Thomas Merrill filed a lawsuit seeking to end the dispute in court.

The resulting contact zone agreement, as amended by the council, provided that, “The property shall contain no more than two dormitories of up to 9,000 square feet of floor area and no more than a 4,500 square foot footprint each and height no more than 35 feet from the highest point of the property and up to three stories in size which will be used to house up to 120 students.” It also allows for a dining hall of no more than 7,000 square feet in floor space, and “accessory buildings as may be needed to support the school’s mission, subject to the site plan review by the planning board.”

Drew Dumsch, executive director of The Ecology School, was confident that the buildings would not be imposing in the neighborhood.

“It’s very preliminary, but, people won’t see anything from the road,” he said earlier this year.

Merrill’s lawsuit sought a declaration that the school’s proposed use of the property is not a “commercial use” in any way that would violate the conservation easement, according to Merrill.

“We’ve said (to the trust) all along, ‘If we can’t get your comfort on this point and resolve your concern, then the only way that I know of to do that is to take it to court and let a judge decide,’” Merrill told the Courier earlier this year. “As much as everybody hates lawsuits, it is a fairly peaceful, amicable way to try to resolve a disagreement on a legal matter.”

The trust didn’t deny that the school is a nonprofit, but argued that its activity is nonetheless “commercial” within the intent of Mary Merrill.

“Although the Ecology School is a nonprofit organization for tax purposes, the school does require students to pay tuition, room and board and other expenses, which is commercial activity,” read the trust’s argument in its opposition to the motion.

Saco Valley Land Trust’s basic appeal was to Mary Merrill’s overarching intent for the farm, rather than to the language of the conservation easement.

“Her intent was for River Bend Farm to be maintained by future owners as she had always maintained it, which was as a farm,” according to court documents.

Dumsch said farming will be part of the school’s curriculum. He also said that the conservation easement was one of the primary reasons he wanted the farm for developing the school.

The school currently operates from the campus of the Ferry Beach Park Association, where they pay rent and only have access to the facility for part of the year.

“We knew we wanted to stay in southern Maine. We were looking for property of about 100 acres or greater, with a mixture of ecosystems and farmland,” Dumsch said.

According to Merrill, his aunt grew hay on the farm and raised horses. The property also has trails for riding and walking through the forest area.

“After several years of looking, and doing research, and listening to some land trusts, and property consultants, there’s nothing remotely like this,” Dumsch said.

The Ecology School closed on its purchase of River Bend Farm in Saco in November after the lawsuit between Saco Valley Land Trust and the Merrills was settled. The school will begin the transition from its rental property at Ferry Beach to the new campus over the next several years. The school plans to transition all of its programs to the 105- acre River Bend Farm property by the end of 2019, with a long-term vision of establishing a full-scale organic farm with crops and livestock.

“For 18 years we’ve taught food systems using our half-acre garden on our rental property at Ferry Beach,” Dumsch said. “Our move to River Bend Farm allows us to significantly expand our food and agriculture programming.”

Agricultural programming at River Bend Farm will be centered around the concept of agroecology, the study and practice of ecology through the lens of local and sustainable agriculture. Ecology School visitors will have the opportunity to become fully immersed in farm activity, by both helping to plant and harvest crops and by participating in “barn to table” meals prepared in the dining commons.

“Our new focus on agroecology will profoundly deepen our impact on both education and agriculture in Maine by inspiring awe and action in students through a stronger understanding of, and appreciation for, their role in food systems and the environment,” said Dumsch.

BIDDEFORD – Demolition work began at Waterhouse Field in spring after the field’s previous bleachers were deemed unsafe. In May, 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.”

Godbout constructed the press box more than 20 years ago with the help of construction technology students at Biddeford High School and other friends, 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.

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

Superintendent Jeremy Ray said once the bleachers were disassembled they were taken to a recycling center, and the press box was stored at the field.

“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.”

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

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

New bleachers were installed at the field in November, after Massabesic High School loaned temporary bleachers for fall games. A new scoreboard with video capabilities and new fence have been installed as well. The press box has been built but likely won’t be raised until the spring due to weather, said Ray. He hopes the school department will be able to place synthetic turf on Waterhouse Field by summer, with half of the $900,000 cost of the project being covered by a grant, and the other half by donations and fundraising. Field hockey and youth athletics will be able to play at Waterhouse once the turf is installed.

“When it’s all complete, it will be a facility like no other in the state,” Ray said.

BIDDEFORD – Maegan Lambert-Irish accepted the coordinator position for the Saco Biddeford Opiate Outreach Initiative at the end of January to help those seeking treatment find local rehabilitation services. The program was started in November 2016 as a collaboration between the Saco and Biddeford Police Departments to combat drug abuse in the twin cities.

Lambert-Irish said some days can be hectic but there are others when the phone doesn’t ring at all. She thinks one of the biggest barriers people face in seeking help is the stigmatization of addiction.

“Addiction is a disease. Your brain physically changes. All the negative behaviors are just symptoms of that disease. We don’t throw stones at the person who suffers a heart attack or has diabetes. We treat them and let them go on with their life. Degrading people just makes it worse.”

Knowing the actual number of overdoses in that timeframe is complicated, however. An individual’s first overdose is less likely to be deadly and often goes unreported. Friends and family are also reluctant to call 911 when an overdose occurs, choosing instead to address the problem on their own. Lambert-Irish said this means law enforcement officials can’t know how many occur in the community.

“We find out about the ones that don’t make it,” she said.

Lambert-Irish said most referrals come from police officers interacting with people in the community. From there it’s a matter of convincing someone struggling with addiction to come in and meet with Lambert-Irish one-on-one. After the initial assessment Lambert-Irish can choose the best program for the individual.

Local organizations that assist with addiction treatment include Southern Maine Health Care, SMART Child and Family Services, Central Maine Counseling Key 3 West and Groups Recover Together.

Lambert-Irish said most of the people she places in recovery receive intensive out-patient treatment, but that following up is the most effective piece. Intensive outpatient treatment can consist of four hour-long group therapy and education sessions, four to five days a week for up to six weeks.

“The major part of treatment is the counseling aspect,” she said.

Part of the stigmatization of substance abuse, according to Lambert-Irish, is the perception that it predominantly affects people of a lower socio-economic status. Lambert-Irish said people with more resources are able to hide their addictions more easily. Alcohol is the most widely abused substance and is available for purchase legally. Many people seeking treatment she’s spoken to had well-paying jobs at one point before alcohol or drugs took over their lives.

“Substance abuse has no defined barriers, it could affect everyone,” she said.

Lambert-Irish said the position she is in was originally intended for two people. She and the Saco and Biddeford Police Departments are looking into the possibility of hiring interns but it all depends on the needs of the community. Right now she said the main goals for both communities are to help reduce the stigma of substance abuse and to spread the word that help is available for those who seek it.

“Everybody who has asked for treatment has received treatment,” she said.

Sgt. Steven Gorton of the Biddeford Police Department said 20 years ago he couldn’t have imagined law enforcement playing a role in mental health issues. However, Gorton said a change was necessary since police officers are the ones who most frequently come into contact with untreated populations. That was the momentum behind the creation of the Street Crimes Unit by Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre in 2014.

“The main focus of street crimes is quality of life,” Gorton said.

Gorton said Police Chief Roger Beaupre recognized that there were people in need of help, struggling with addiction and it wouldn’t be possible to arrest their way out of the situation. The model became to do everything the police department can to get users everything they need, Gorton said.

SACO – Developers who plan to build a six-acre multiuse facility on the east side of Factory Island must adhere to strict guidelines from the Saco River Corridor Commission if they want their vision to become a reality.

Commission members, developers and city officials held a site walk in October to familiarize everyone involved. Led by Bernie Saulnier, of Saulnier Development, the project is expected to consist of 85 housing units, a boutique hotel, recreation center, community park, marina facilities and extension of the RiverWalk.

Dennis Finn, executive director for the Saco River Corridor Commission, has worked with members of Saulnier’s team before and is comfortable with their past performance.

“These folks have been to us before in different forms,” he said. “They know what the standards are. I think they fully expect to do their best to comply. That’s their responsibility.”

The Saco River Corridor Commission was established under the Saco River Corridor Act by the Maine State Legislature in 1973. The commission, in part, regulates land use development of areas within 500 to 1,000 feet of the Saco River and other connected waterbeds. Representatives from 20 municipalities that border these bodies of water comprise the commission.

Stephen Bushey, Stantec Project Manager, said investigations into soil conditions at the site as well as traffic movement studies have concluded and preliminary work on an application to the city’s planning board has begun.

“We’re moving forward slowly but deliberately on design and information gathering,” he said earlier this year. “We will make an effort to try and be as open and communicative with people as possible.”

Bushey was provided with examples of rain gardens by the project’s landscape architect, Patrick Carroll, and plans to use them in the design.

Developers will also consider extending the RiverWalk trail from Run of the Mill, along the east side of the island and connect it to a potential bridge to the mainland below Cataract Dam.

When developers submit applications to the city, Finn and Saco River Corridor Commission members will review it together to make sure standards for construction are met. An existing sea wall around the east edge of the island also needs repair.

Finn said large sections of the timber and granite that keep the island from crumbling into the river should be replaced. Work on the sea wall would require input from the state as well as the Army Corps of Engineers.

The island has been home to many industrial uses for generations and Finn hopes the new development can restore some of what may have been lost.

“The site can use a lot of help to bring it back and make it part of the city,” he said. “I think it will look like a gateway coming into a vibrant urban area on the river. It’s a good thing for the city in my opinion, not speaking for the commission.”

In November, Director of Code Enforcement Richard Lambert issued a notice of violation and stop work order to J & B Partners LLC for clearing trees on the southern half of Saco Island east of Main Street.

“Essentially the lot has been cleared of almost all of the trees in the area greater than 75 feet from the normal high water line of the river,” Lambert wrote. “Whereas the ordinance allows only up to 40 percent of the trees to be removed.”

Saulnier said he cut down the trees to allow a soil testing company to conduct work on the property. He said he had spoken with the Saco River Corridor Commission and made sure nothing within 100 feet of the river’s edge was cut. Saulnier said the reception from the city was negative when he cleared the trees and didn’t understand why he wasn’t able to do so on his own land.

“I didn’t know there was a fine for cutting my own trees,” he said. “My engineer guided me on what we should cut. I thought we were doing what we were allowed to do. I buy a piece of property and the city tells me I can’t cut trees. I’m a little surprised.”

While the city chose not to impose fines on the developers, the Saco River Corridor Commission will meet in January to discuss the possibility of fines. Lambert said a consent agreement between the city and developers has been drafted, however he could not release it to the public before both parties had signed.

Bushey said he is hopeful that he and the developers can appear before the planning board by January.

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – The Old Orchard Beach Veterans Memorial Park Committee planned to make the park more handicap accessible this year and improve the overall landscape design. The committee hoped to start excavation by fall and have the final project completed within the next three years, however progress has stalled due to a lack of volunteers and funding.

The estimated cost of the project is $242,455. At a May 2 Town Council Budget Workshop, the Memorial Park Committee requested $60,000, the same recommendation made by the town finance committee and town manager. According to the meeting minutes the council acknowledged the good work being done by the committee.

Tina Kelly, Old Orchard Beach resident and co-chairman of the Veterans Memorial Park Committee, said the park is for the community and members seek suggestions on how the park can be most accessible when it comes to veterans. The current veteran’s memorial will be moved from atop a hill closer to flags in the park. Kelly said the handicap improvements are the first phase of changes and will be followed by new gardens and benches. She said the committee could do more but it needs more people to help.

Kelly said the committee wants to plant a memorial garden for each war the U.S. has been involved in. She said water lilies could be used for the Vietnam War and a rock garden in honor of Desert Storm, for example. Kelly said she hopes the gardens would allow family members and veterans to reflect on positive memories of their loved ones. Kelly said she hopes people will think of more than just The Pier when they consider Old Orchard Beach.

Mary Beth Robillard is a fellow Old Orchard Beach resident and committee co-chairman. She and Kelly have been involved in park management together on and off throughout the past 10 years. They met when the park used to be a parking lot and small fenced in dog park.

Robillard said the committee meets at 6 p.m. the first Monday of every month at Old Orchard Beach High School. She said she understands it’s difficult for people to attend meetings in such a small community and hopes to update interested residents via email more often.

Robillard said anyone can help support the park by purchasing either a tree or bench through the committee. A plaque can be made in honor of a veteran and 100 percent of funds go toward maintaining the park. All committee members are volunteers.

“The town will help some,” she said, “but we need some big fundraising.”

Assistant Town Manager V. Louise Reid said funding for the park will come from a Capital Improvement Plan, money typically reserved for large long term public works projects.

“The budget process doesn’t approve every single item at once,” Reid said. “The fact (the council) is not giving all (the funding) now does not mean they don’t support (the park).” BIDDEFORD – The Downtown Taskforce Subcommittee identified two places where a potential parking garage could be located in the city.

Those two locations are at 3 Lincoln St., the former Maine Energy Recovery Co. property, which is owned by the city, or near there, behind Lincoln Mill, closer to Main Street, on property partially owned by developer Doug Sanford and property owned by Tim Harrington, the developer who announced plans in 2014 to rehab Lincoln Mill.

Subcommittee Chairman Bruce Benway said if the latter location – the committee’s number one recommendation – is approved by the city council, a cost for the city to purchase the properties would need to be negotiated with landowners.

“The committee report placed the property between the rear of Lincoln Mill and Pepperell Building 10 as the primary site; 3 Lincoln St. is the secondary site,” Benway said. “Beside Pepperell Building 10, there is a parking lot. From that parking lot to Lincoln Street Mill, there is this berm and a row of trees. In back of Lincoln Street Mill there’s an open area that might require demolition of a small building that’s there.”

Any plan for a parking structure downtown, Benway said, is contingent on council approval.

The city of Biddeford purchased the 8.5 acre former MERC property for $6.5 million, in 2012. In 2014, the city paid nearly $100,000 to Camoin Associates from the city’s Tax Increment Financing fund to determine the best use for site.

Dan Stevenson, the city’s former economic development director, said the study indicated that a parking structure would be needed to support growth on the site.

“If a parking garage would go on that site, there’s room for commercial activity,” he said.

According to the subcommittee, the plan is to finance the facility in a way that won’t affect taxpayers.

“First, we couldn’t make a decision based on what happened yesterday or what’s happening today,” Benway said in a press release provided by the committee in February. “It was imperative that we think two and three years down the road, at least, and think about the implications of downtown growth that is already in the planning stages. We also recognized access to the Saco River is opening up dramatically and that’s going to have a direct influence on pedestrian flow and other very important considerations. That river and its falls will be a prominent symbol of an economically revitalized Biddeford.”

Benway said six properties were considered for a potential parking structure, including Washington Street.

“We thought there was more of a drawback to that in terms of the ability to do future expansion,” he said.

The committee also looked at the lot near the police station on Alfred Street, an area on Foss and Emery streets and an area on Center Street, behind Biddeford City Hall.

Benway said a parking structure in the Lincoln Mill/ former MERC property area would benefit more than those businesses located in the mills.

“Would it benefit just the mill district? Obviously not,” he said.

“They both provide good proximity to the areas of the downtown and mill district areas of Biddeford in most need of a greater supply of parking,” according to the committee’s report. “These two sites would require minimal initial site work and both would provide good access to the RiverWalk. While each one has some drawbacks . . . they both meet the principal goals of spurring development, meeting the existing needs of businesses, supporting the present and future expanded RiverWalk and being flexible enough to meet uncertain future needs in the city.”

Desman Associates, a national company that specializes in parking garage consultation, presented a garage site study before the city council on Tuesday, Dec. 12. The study outline three possible locations for the garage, the corner of Washington and Federal streets, the former Maine Energy Recovery site and Pepperell Plaza, a lot behind the Lincoln Mill owned by Harrington and Sanford. Each site would accommodate 400 spaces and have the possibility for future expansion.

The former MERC site was deemed the most viable according Desman Associate’s study. The project would cost between $11 and $12 million. However, that figure does not include the cost of site remediation, utility work, insurance or architect and engineer fees.

While the former MERC property is the furthest from downtown, it is entirely owned by the city and was considered easier to construct on than the other two sites.

City Manager Jim Bennett said the city council will likely discuss the parking garage presentation at the Jan. 16 council meeting. He said the soonest a request for proposal would be available is the summer. According to Bennett, about half of the proposed garage is already full based on residents of the Lofts at Saco Falls who pay to park at the former MERC site.

“We know the demand for that amount already based on what we currently have people paying us now in the old MERC site,” he said. “They’re paying to the city $40 a month and a number of other people have asked to be able to get paid parking in that location.”

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – The Ballpark Commission has big plans for next season, which could include hosting the town’s summer concert series.

The commission held its first public workshop at town hall on Wednesday, Nov. 29. Robin Dayton, the commission’s vice-chairman and acting secretary, said commissioners discussed, among many things, the possibility of moving the summer concert series from Memorial Park to The Ballpark. The last concert of the 2017 season, Motor Booty Affair, was held on Aug. 17 at The Ballpark.

Councilor Michael Tousignant said he asked Recreation Director Jason Webber about the switch to see if it would improve attendance.

“I do feel concerts in The Ballpark are more accessible to people due to free parking,” Tousignant said. “Downtown you have to pay. We have nice bathroom facilities at The Ballpark and there are hardly any downtown. We have not met and talked about whether to make that move. It’s really more of a recreation department decision to make than it is a council level decision.”

Webber said a decision on the move could be made as early as the first of next year. He said he would make the decision jointly with Town Manager Larry Mead after hearing more from town council members. Webber said the recreation departments spends between $6,000 and $8,000 per year on the concert series. This upcoming season will be its 13th year.

“The only downside is that Memorial Park is such a beautiful venue,” Webber said. “The concert series is truly a community event and it’s a lot easier for residents of Old Orchard Beach to have the concerts at The Ballpark. Tourists and visitors are more than welcome to join us at The Ballpark, but it’s a better venue for residents.”

Tousignant said The Ballpark worked well as a venue because people were able to buy food from the concession stand. Hamburgers and hot dogs are typically available in Memorial Park for concerts as well. Tousignant said the crowd at The Ballpark was 10 times larger than the concerts in Memorial Park, but Motor Booty Affair is also a well-known band. He said aside from posters placed around town, the concert series is not well advertised.

Ballpark Operations Manager Guy Fontaine said he’s looking forward to the next season of the park and has already booked a few major events for 2018. The Firecracker Baseball Showcase Tournaments will run for the first time from June 21 to June 25 next year. The tournament began in 2008 in Rhode Island with six teams and now includes more than 50. Dirigo Vintage Baseball Club, a nonprofit that promotes and plays by the rules of baseball as it was formed in the mid-1800s, will return to The Ballpark on Aug. 18. The Surge and Southern Maine River Rats are both expected to return as well. Fontaine said more than 140 games of baseball are played at The Ballpark each season for the past few years.

According to the Ballpark Commission’s quarterly report, the fourth annual Blues and Jazz Festival profited $3,700. The farmer’s market, a first this year, averaged three to seven vendors each weekend and earned $800. The New England Parkinson’s Ride saw 1,000 participants and 2,500 spectators. The ride raised more than $772,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

After an engineering study was conducted last fall, maintaining The Ballpark is a top priority for Fontaine. He hoped to have a request for proposals finished sometime within the next few weeks for work to begin early spring.

“The next biggest step is getting contracts out there for long term preservation for sealing the cement and taking care of any cosmetics so it will last a long time,” Fontaine said.

Fontaine also hopes a new LED lighting sign will help attract people to The Ballpark. The sign was installed at the end of August and was donated by Pepsi for $1,500 as part of its annual contract renewal. The new LED sign was placed underneath the existing one. Fontaine said information on the former sign would take about an hour to change and many people did not notice it.

“This is the largest piece of public land left in Old Orchard Beach, outside of the Beach itself,” she said. “Geographically it is directly in the heart of town. It’s one of the last pieces of open space we have. With the public schools as abutters, it just makes perfect sense to develop it as a public recreation area. The long term vision is as a gateway to recreation in southern Maine.”

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