The Windham Youth Soccer Association will have to wait another month before the town decides whether to allow the organization to purchase the Gambo fields complex off River Road, the site the group has been using for decades.
A number of parent volunteers showed support for the soccer association at a Town Council meeting Tuesday, citing the group’s dedication to maintaining and upgrading the Gambo fields, as well as its widespread support from parents and businesses.
At the council meeting April 19, the soccer organization proposed to purchase the fields for $80,000, which was also the amount the town paid the Portland Water District for the land just three months ago. Prior to the purchase, the town leased the fields from the Portland Water District.
The soccer association, in partnership with the town, has been using and maintaining Gambo fields for nearly 25 years, investing about $500,000 into improving the fields during that time. Roughly $30,000 per year and hundreds of volunteer hours, including donated services from local businesses, are put into maintaining the fields by the soccer association, according to group president Danielle Davis.
Chairwoman Donna Chapman was the only town councilor to express definite support for the proposal, while other councilors requested more time and input from the community before making a decision.
Ultimately, the council voted to postpone voting on the purchase for another month. In the interim, the town will hold a workshop with members of the soccer association and other local sports organizations that use the fields, to discuss whether allowing the soccer association to purchase the fields would be beneficial for all involved.
Davis and other members of the association question whether the town has sufficient money and manpower to properly care for the fields.
“The town does not have the best track record of maintaining public places,” said Davis at Tuesday’s council meeting.
The town’s skate park, which closed recently due to disrepair, was used as an example by the association and Chapman of the town’s lack of care for its facilities.
If the town chooses to keep the property, it “will be a tax burden to the city, who can’t afford it,” said board member Scott Hayman, a former town councilor.
He suggested the money from the sale of Gambo be put toward constructing a new skate park for the town, a plan being discussed in the council chambers next week.
If allowed to purchase the fields, Davis said, the organization is looking to fix the parking lot, expand field space, add irrigation systems and construct a permanent shelter. With 800 children signed up for the association’s numerous programs – including travel and recreational soccer, and a new program for toddlers – Davis said the organization will need to increase their field space to accommodate the number of players.
Because they plan to invest in the fields, the association said they are not interested in leasing the property.
“To purchase the property is to secure the program for the future,” Davis said.
Councilor David Nadeau, citing a lack of fields for recreational sports in Windham, said it would be “shortsighted for the council to say we’re going to give these up when we’ve got nothing.”
The soccer association “should have first priority” on the use of Gambo, Nadeau said, but other uses for the fields should be considered.
Windham Youth Lacrosse Organization, another parent-run volunteer group, has also made use of the Gambo fields in the past. The organization will play at the town-owned Lincoln Circle Field in East Windham and the high school fields this year, according to board member Liza Libby. But if the school is forced to close fields in the future, the organization will be searching for more field space.
The soccer association said it would continue to allow lacrosse and other town groups to use the fields if it acquires the property.
Councilor Timothy Nangle said the council needs to “do what’s best for the town. To give one organization a shot without the input of other organizations is shortsighted for the town.”
Nangle also expressed concern that the town’s purchase of Gambo was very recent, “and we haven’t even had an opportunity to take a breath and figure out is it something we are open to maintaining.”
The council is also looking to increase staff in the Parks and Recreation Department, according to Nangle, which could help the town better maintain public spaces such as Gambo.
Following the council vote to postpone, Davis said the group is “a little frustrated with the process. But we’ll continue to work with the town, and hopefully the final outcome will be to purchase the property.”
Elizabeth Hartwell, left, and Maya Dries defend their goal during a recent game at the Gambo fields. The Windham Youth Soccer Association is looking to purchase the complex from the town, but the council is ambivalent about the proposal.
Windham Youth Soccer players, from left, Nolan Dries, Zoe Dries, Maya Dries, Elizabeth Hartwell, Dylan Hartwell, Aiden Hartwell, and Mia Davis in front, take a break from playing at Gambo fields in Windham.
Danielle Davis, president of the Windham Youth Soccer Association, presents the organization’s case for purchasing Gambo Fields to the town council. The council has postponed voting on the purchase for one month.