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College to renovate Whittier Field, angering neighbors

March 31, 2017

Jenny Ibsen

The College has acquired the funding necessary to renovate the Magee-Samuelson Track and Whittier Field facility after receiving a large donation over Spring Break that pushed the first phase of the project to meet its $4.5 million budget.

This phase will involve revamping the track as well as replacing the current grass field with a larger turf one, which will be used for football, lacrosse and soccer games. Construction will begin in May and be complete in time for the first home football game of the season in late September, according to Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan.

The second phase, intended to begin later in 2018, will add a new equipment and training and locker room buildings next to the field. The entire project will cost $8 million, some of which still needs to be raised.

The project is “funded completely by donations to the College,” according to an email sent by President Clayton Rose to the Bowdoin community on Monday, March 27, which notified students of the planned renovations. The College began soliciting donations for the renovation in the summer of 2016, after the Athletic Department began to develop concrete plans for the project.

Upgrading the track and field has been one of the priorities of the department since the 400-meter track, which was resurfaced in 2005, started to crack and warp due to a failing subsurface about four years ago.

Neighbors of the facility who live on Bowker and Pine streets were notified by the College and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in mid-March.

The College is currently in the permitting process, which means they are working to address the many concerns that a construction project of this size raises—from the DEP, the Brunswick town council and the families living near Whittier Field. The concerns include protecting the underground water system throughout the project; traffic in the neighborhood both during and after the renovation process; and light and noise disturbances due to night games and practices.

The College has hosted two public meetings regarding the project where it presented renderings of the imagined renovations and solicited and responded to concerns from the neighbors of Whittier Field.

“We have every hope and expectation based on the work we’re doing, based on ongoing conversation with the town, based on what we’re trying to do to mitigate any concerns, that this all falls within permitting uses, that we will get that permission and be able to move forward,” said Senior Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood. “We’re pretty optimistic about that.”

THE PLAN 

The renovations include: a newly-surfaced, championship-sized track (eight lanes instead of the current six), an artificial turf field (replacing what is now grass), 80-foot LED lights for night games and practices and a new press box. The bleachers that now line Hubbard Grandstand—the historical roofed structure on the Bowker Street side of the track—will be removed and new bleachers will be installed on the Pine Street side of the track. Two new walkways to the facility will be built, one from Pine Street and one from Bowker. The new training building will likely include an access road for athletic buses.

“It’s a transformational project for our department and we anticipate more than 350 varsity athletes [and] over 150 club and intramural sport participants will be impacted,” said Ryan.

He emphasized the importance of the new turf field to several Bowdoin sports teams.

“When the project is completed, it will free up two practice fields at the Farley and Pickard fields during the fall,” Ryan said. “Football will fully be running out of Whittier and that will open up two locker rooms. Right now our hockey teams aren’t able to get into their locker rooms until the end of the [football] season. This [renovation] will provide us the opportunity to put them in their locker rooms at the beginning of their season, so the impact is fairly significant across the whole department.”

Because Whittier is currently a grass field, football only uses it for games—if they practiced on it, too, the field would be destroyed because of overuse. The new turf can be plowed, allowing for use in the winter.

The Grandstand—which the College is in the process of making a federally-recognized historical landmark—and the brick entryway to the field off of Harpswell Road will remain intact after the renovation. The construction process will scrap everything else and shift the track toward Bowker street, where the current seating in front of the Grandstand is, allowing room for the two extra lanes and the bleachers on the other side of the field.

With the upgrade to a championship-sized track, Bowdoin will be a stronger candidate to host larger outdoor track and field meets. The increase in visitors, according to Ryan, would be economically beneficial for Brunswick.

The second phase of construction, accounting for the other $3.5 million of the project, is not yet fully funded or approved. It is expected to include a new equipment and locker room facility next to the field.

NEIGHBORHOOD RESPONSE

Mark Battle, an associate professor of physics at the College and resident of Bowker Street, expressed frustrations with the project in a phone interview with the Orient. With construction to begin in May, Battle feels that the expedited nature of the decision and follow-through process of the project has not left enough time for neighbors to negotiate certain aspects of the renovation that could change the nature of their neighborhood.

In mid-March, he and his neighbors received an invitation from the College to attend the first public meeting about the project, which was held the following day. Battle could not make it.

“They wanted the residents to hear about this event or project from the College rather than hear about it through [the DEP]. So they held that meeting in great haste and then a day or two later we got a notice from the DEP saying there will be a meeting on March 29,” he said.

Following the first meeting with the College, the neighbors gathered to share their concerns with one another. Many residents expressed that the neighborhood encircling Whittier Field is quiet and residential—full of families and retirees who have chosen to live there.

“The immediate reaction of everyone who was involved was bright lights late at night, lots of activity late at night for the lacrosse games which are held in the evenings on weeknights, bus and car traffic on Bowker and Pine Streets, and music being played loudly there before during or after the games,” said Battle.

At a DEP public meeting held at Bowdoin on Wednesday, one major request from residents was that the new equipment and training building and its access road be located next to Pine Street on the north field, rather than Bowker on the south.

Battle stated his concern about the location of the access road as planned.

“It would be visible, it would be right across the street from the four windows of four different Bowker residents … You could imagine the amount of traffic associated with that building,” he said. “Equipment for track and lacrosse and football, the training supplies, the toilet paper for the lockers and cleaning supplies—all of those things would be delivered and we’d essentially have an active commercial loading dock right across the street from these residences.”

Neighbors at the DEP meeting also took issue with the prospect of coach buses and athletic vehicles stationed near their homes for several hours a day. “They’d be running and they smell. We don’t want the exhaust,” one resident said.

Other concerns involved the frequency of games and practices that would require the LED lighting to be on. Ryan assured the group that there would only be three or four evening games at Whittier Field in a season and that practices would always be finished before 7:30 p.m. as athletes have to get dinner before the dining halls close.

The most common complaints concerned the expected noise and light pollution in the neighborhood.

“By moving the bleachers from the south side to the north side, now you’ll have people shouting right at Bowker Street instead of away from Bowker Street. That’s a big difference. I don’t know why you have to do that,” said Dan Harris, a member of the Brunswick Town Council. “The lighting, by posing night activity on the field—that’s a dramatic change for what the neighborhood has experienced to date. These are families with kids, little kids some of them, and it’s a big change to have a lot of activity going on at night.”

An overarching concern among residents was property value in the neighborhood.

“What we’re concerned about is with the increase of light and noise and traffic it becomes a much less desirable place to live, people will sell their houses, it will turn over into less expensive rentals and the vitality of the neighborhood will diminish or vanish,” said Battle. “It’ll be a run down, poorly maintained rental neighborhood.”

There was consensus at the meetings that the neighbors wanted a written commitment from the College that it would be mindful of these concerns, and put in place regulations on aspects of the field like music and light usage. In past years, Whittier has hosted outdoor Ivies concerts.

Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Matt Orlando promised neighbors a fair plan for the field’s use.

“I’d work on a usage plan, something that’s reasonable, something that’s applicable for the next five  years, the next 30 years, and something that’s reasonable for you as well,” Orlando said.

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