2016-09-09 / Front Page

Officials: Waterhouse Field in dire need of repair

Community forum discusses proposals for renovations
By ALAN BENNETT
Staff Writer


Waterhouse Field, which has been used for Biddeford schools sporting events since 1973, is pictured Thursday. The field’s last major upgrade was more than 20 years ago, and time has taken a toll on the field and its facilities. On Thursday, the Waterhouse Advisory Committee put forth three multi-million dollar proposals for public comment. 
ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune Waterhouse Field, which has been used for Biddeford schools sporting events since 1973, is pictured Thursday. The field’s last major upgrade was more than 20 years ago, and time has taken a toll on the field and its facilities. On Thursday, the Waterhouse Advisory Committee put forth three multi-million dollar proposals for public comment. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune BIDDEFORD — The Waterhouse Advisory Committee held a community forum Thursday evening to discuss proposed renovations to Waterhouse Field, which could cost upward of $5.5 million.

The field and its accessory features haven’t been renovated for more than 20 years and are in desperate need of attention, said several school administrators and members of the public.

“For many years, when people think of athletic facilities, they hold Waterhouse right at the top ... times have changed,” said Biddeford School Superintendent Jeremy Ray. “Things have gotten older, and we’re at a point where decisions need to be made.”

Currently, the field does not meet the standards to play state or regional competitions, nor does it meet regulations for Maine Principal’s Association-sponsored events, Ray said.

There is also a Title IX concern that mandates the field must be equitable for all sports, which it currently is not because the field is too soft for field hockey.

Ray said the field also needs to be both widened and shifted slightly northeast, because one side of the playing space is about 4 feet lower in elevation than the other.

The “home” side bleachers, the larger of the two stands, were purchased used from Massachusetts Shriners in 1999. The opposing “visitor” side was purchased used in 1985 from Catholic Memorial High School, also in Massachusetts.

Both sets of bleachers were originally designed for indoor use, and have been repaired multiple times since their installation. Last year, several Westbrook High School students fell through two rows of low-level bleachers during a regular season game because the boards were weak. There were no injuries in that incident.

Other proposed renovations include a new scoreboard, new LED lights and replacement of light poles. The latter were installed in 1985 and are now cracked and twisted, and present challenges for hosting night games.

Ray said the committee is considering options for a new turf field, which he argues will allow for a greater number of playing hours each season and will better withstand unpredictable weather conditions like rain, as opposed to grass, which is subject to the environment.

The committee presented three options for renovations, each with a different price tag. The first is the $3.4 million Basic Core Option, which would focus primarily on safety upgrades and updates to the bleachers, lights, field, sound system and scoreboard.

The Basic Core Option would reduce the capacity of the field from 5,000 to 3,400 – seats with 2,500 people on the home side and 900 people on the visitor side – with temporary bleachers available for events requiring more seating.

The Core Plus Option, projected at $3.9 million, would expand seating capacity to 3,000 on the home side, expand and renovate the visitor locker room, and upgrade the main entrance to the park on West Street.

The final option, the $5.5 million Legacy Option, would include a capacity of about 4,700 people and include renovated locker rooms, additional restrooms, a playground, picnic areas, fitness stations and potentially a quarter-mile trail around the field that would be open from morning to night.

To date, the School Department has raised $270,915 through cash and private pledges to help fund the renovations. It has established a fundraising goal of $500,000.

Ray said the project may be presented to Biddeford voters as a bond issue through a special election, in which voters could choose which package they feel is more appropriate.

Ray also said adjustments to the city’s mill rate would be relatively minimal, providing the example that a $3 million bond approved over 20 years would equate to 10 cents increase on the tax rate. For a property owner with a $200,000 home, their taxes would go up by about $20.

While there was a lot of support for renovations of any kind Thursday, some residents expressed concern in regard to turning the field into a designated park.

“I volunteer hours and hours and hours every season. My concerns devolve from being a neighbor of the field,” said Tracie Morin Phillips, who lives on Gertrude Avenue directly adjacent to the field. “There are constantly kids jumping the fence. I have repaired the fence in my backyard numerous times. There’s trash over the fence all the time.”

“What I’m mostly concerned about is, you said the facility could be open from dawn to dusk; would that just be a free-or-all for people to come in and use what they want to use?” Phillips asked.

Ray responded by saying the field itself would be fenced in, and that the new bleachers would be accessible only from the back, so they could be closed to the public when the park shuts down at night.

Phillips said she didn’t disagree that something needs to be done, but that she was concerned about her privacy and the conditions of the park next to her home.

“I think something definitely needs to be done,” she said. “If you look at it, it’s sad. It needs something.”

The Waterhouse Advisory Committee will continue holding public information sessions before sending its recommendations to the School Committee. If approved by the committee, the plans will go to City Council.

If approved by the City Council, ground could break on the project in November 2017, and the field could be reopened by fall 2018.

If the project is struck down, there is the potential the field may not be able to be used by Biddeford schools for sporting events due to safety hazards and regulatory issues, Ray said.

“We have to consider as a community, if this does not go forward, how much longer we’re going to play here,” he said.

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

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