2016-10-27 / Front Page

At 2nd Waterhouse Field forum more options proposed

Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — Waterhouse Advisory committee held a public forum Tuesday to discuss options for renovations to Waterhouse Field school officials say are necessary.

The field, which hasn’t been renovated in more than 20 years, is in dire need of upgrades to its infrastructure, school officials say.

The field’s “home” side bleachers were purchased used from Massachusetts Shriners in 1999, and the “visitor” side stands were bought used from Catholic Memorial High School in Massachusetts in 1985. Both sets of bleachers were intended for indoor use, and have been repaired multiple times since their installation.

Light poles installed in 1985 are becoming cracked, making night games hard to illuminate. The committee is also considering upgrading the field to turf, which School Superintendent Ray said would better withstand unpredictable weather.

Tuesday’s meeting was the second forum of its kind, following a similar public presentation held in September. During that meeting, three renovation options were proposed.

The first is the Basic Core Option, which at $3.4 million would focus primarily on safety upgrades and update bleachers, lights, the field, sound system and scoreboard to modern standards. The option would reduce the seating from about 5,000 seats to 3,400, with 2,500 seats on the home side.

The second option, the Core Plus Option, would expand seating capacity on the home side to 3,000, upgrade the park’s main entrance and expand and renovate the locker rooms. That option is projected at $3.9 million.

The final option, the $5.5 million Legacy Option, would have a capacity of 4,700 and would call for renovated changing and restroom facilities and the addition of a playground, fitness station and possibly a quarter-mile trail around the field. The goal of the Legacy Option is to create a “complete recreational facility,” according to the committee.

Karen Chasse, director of community outreach and development for the Biddeford School Department, said Wednesday the WAC had been asked by the School Committee to look into the possibility of renovating the high school’s practice field, Brother Herbert Field on Maplewood Avenue, instead of Waterhouse Field.

Chasse said that project would cost about $4.9 million because the field is not big enough to meet program standards and the track encircling the field would have to be replaced. If that option were to be considered, Waterhouse Field would likely be used for practices instead of games, Chasse said.

Ray said he supports the lower-priced Basic Core Option, and called for action on the field to be taken in the immediate future. School officials said Tuesday that Waterhouse Field likely has only two to four years of playing time left before it falls into complete disrepair.

“We need to deal with this challenge one way or the other,” Ray said.

The School Department has so far raised $282,028 through donations to help fund the renovations, just over half of its goal of $500,000.

Chasse said many of the 30 or so attendees to Tuesday’s forum were in support of field renovations, but some in attendance expressed concern over parking and noise issues that could arise from an expansive upgrade.

“Some neighbors were there and they were concerned about the noise, because turf you can play on it at all hours. Parking is always a concern,” she said. “Those are the biggest challenges ... how do the neighbors feel, which is valid.”

“Right now we’ll do multiple community forums and try to get the messages out,” Chasse said.

Chasse said the renovations are necessary because students are at a disadvantage playing on an out-of-date field.

Last month, Ray said 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.

“I think our ultimate goal is obviously our kids having a field they can be proud of and can excel on and be equal to what other schools are currently playing on,” Chasse said. “We’re at a disadvantage when we don’t have turf and they do.”

In addition, she said, the School Department wants to maintain the field’s historic value in the community.

“I do think it’s about more than just the field,” Chasse said. “Waterhouse has been such a part of this school’s history that people have a lot of pride in that field, and it would be great if we were to utilize it to its potential.”

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

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