Representatives from the College and Sebago Technics, an engineering firm headquartered in South Portland, presented plans for renovations to the Pickard Field complex to the Brunswick Staff Review Committee at Brunswick Town Hall on Wednesday morning. The planned renovations include new turf fields, lighting installations and accessible seating. At the meeting, members of the public offered input on the plan, raising environmental concerns and requests for transparency.
Kylie Mason, chief operations officer for Sebago Technics, presented the details of the project to a panel that included, among others, the land use planner, environmental planner and the town engineer for the town of Brunswick. Representatives from the College present included Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Matt Orlando, Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan, Director of Capital Projects John Simoneau and Government Relations and Land Use Specialist Catherine Ferdinand.
Mason explained that in the current renovation plans, the locations of the baseball and softball fields would be flipped, and both fields would be turfed. The fields will be relocated to a more central location within the athletic complex, and the athletic department also plans to build a new multipurpose turf field for soccer and rugby practices as well as a new grass rugby field. In addition, new lighting and seating will be installed at game facilities.
“We’re planning to add operational support structures such as accessible seating and press boxes and things along those lines to really transition our current contest venues from fields to real athletic facilities,” Ryan said in an interview with the Orient.
According to Ryan, the transition to turf on three of the fields reflects the challenges of accessing grass fields during the winter as well as concerns about consistency of play.
“In Maine, accessing the fields in the spring has been really challenging,” Ryan said. “We historically have had coaches out there chipping away at ice along the tree lines of our grass fields to try to get our teams out there to be able to play. The turf will really help with accessibility, along with relocating those fields to a little bit more of a centralized location in the overall layout of the Pickard facility.”
At the meeting, members of the community raised concerns about the project’s impact on the environment and on neighbors’ use of the fields. Anger sparked among neighbors last spring in response to a poster about the changes that circulated around the neighborhoods closest to the fields.
Many neighbors at the meeting, including Eddie Kingman, whose home directly abuts the fields, expressed their wish that the College and the town provide transparency and opportunities for neighbors to be involved throughout the process.
“There’s been relatively little communication about these plans despite some awareness of them for several months now,” Kingman said during public comment. “So I’ll just express that concern: better communication and more involvement from the neighborhood and surrounding community would be appreciated, because these fields are, frankly, cherished in their current state by the surrounding community. I think that’s a very important thing to keep in mind. It’s in Bowdoin’s charter to be a good neighbor to the surrounding community, so I would certainly appreciate them acting as such.”
Professor of Romance Languages and Literature and Cinema Studies Allison Cooper also asked for transparency and more details about the project in the weeks to come, raising concerns about the impact of the turf fields on her garden.
“If there’s any runoff from those fields, they’re going to go right into our garden,” Cooper said. “So we really do have just very visceral concerns about the safety of this plan and how it’s going to affect our day-to-day life.”
Another neighbor, Stephanie Foster, spoke about damage to the character of the fields and surrounding areas.
“My big concern here is that once you make these changes, once you move to turf, once you take out the trees and once you add lighting, [it is] a change that’s permanent,” Foster said. “It’s very difficult to go back, and this is a space that has a lot of character and has a lot of nature. It’s a beautiful space for people who are athletes and for people who aren’t athletes, who use it in lots of different ways. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and there’s no getting it back. I think that will be a huge loss for Bowdoin and for the community.”
The College hopes to begin work on the fields this spring and complete the renovations by the end of 2023. As of yet, no decisions have been made at the town level, and the site plan will go to the Brunswick Planning Board for further consideration and public review.