Funding on the line for Warren Outdoor Rec Area

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WESTBROOK — Until the city finds a recreational replacement site for tennis courts that used to exist at Prides Corner and Saccarappa schools, it won’t be moving forward on a $400,000 project to improve the Warren Outdoor Recreation Area.

The City Council a year ago approved an application for $200,000 in federal Land and Water Conservation funding to be put toward the project. But that funding won’t be coming Westbrook’s way because the city is not upholding a Land and Water Conservation stewardship obligation on grant money it received 30 years ago.

The city received federal Land and Water Conservation Fund money in 1967 to construct tennis courts at Prides Corner School and in 1979 to build courts at Saccarappa. The Prides Corner court was removed when the school was closed and the property was redeveloped into a residential neighborhood. The court at Saccarappa was removed to make way for the new addition to the school.

The city, per the restrictions that came with the federal funding, must provide a replacement site of equal or greater value in order to meet their stewardship obligation. The site does not have to be used for tennis courts.

City staff have proposed developing a 45-acre site in the City Forest behind the Westbrook Community Center into a network of trails and open space. The land must be appraised to determine if this land is of at least equal value to the two previous sites. City Administrator Jerre Bryant said. The council on Nov. 19 approved using $9,000 in funding – $3,000 each from the school department, city and Recreation and Conservation Commission – to have Bucklin Appraisal look at the three properties to determine their value.

The appraisal is expected to be completed early next year. The next steps, said Phil Spiller, a member of the Westbrook Recreation and Conservation Commission, would include an environmental assessment and creation of a master plan at the Westbrook City Forest site. 

The Land and Water Conservation Fund Act was established in 1964 to help federal, state and local governments acquire and develop sites for public recreation facilities. The program is administrated at the federal level by the National Parks Service and at the state level by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Bureau of Parks and Lands.

Spiller said the state has told communities that no further Land and Water Conservation Fund grants, or funding from a dozen other grant programs, would be awarded until communities adhere to Land and Water Conservation Fund requirements.

“They have really come down on communities about that,” he said. “That is why we are putting all this effort into this.”

Spiller said the city has been given a stipulation that it will receive the $200,000 Land and Water Conservation Fund grant if it continues to make progress on finding, planning and ultimately implementing an open space equal or greater to the former tennis court sites.

Aside from the federal grant, the $400,000 improvement project at the Warren Outdoor Recreation Area would be funded through a $50,000 Community Development Block Grant, a $100,000 donation from Cornelia Warren Community Association, a $35,000 contribution from the Westbrook Environmental Improvement Corporation and $15,000 from the Recreation and Conservation Commission.

The project calls for improvements to the area’s parking, lighting and handicapped access, as well as other electrical and safety upgrades. It also includes improvements to Fraser Field and a new playground, splash pad, picnic area, rain garden and court for pickleball or shuffleboard.

Prior to the 2016 basketball court project in memory of Trey Arsenault, a Westbrook athlete who was killed in 2015, the recreation area hadn’t received significant upgrades since the 1980s. 

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews

A drone image shows the Warren Outdoor Recreation Area between Main Street and the Presumpscot River. The city has applied for a grant to make the area more accessible and usable by a wider array of residents, but in order to recieve funding it must prove it is abiding by prior Land and Water Conservation Fund grant requirements.

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