Turf’s up in Gorham

GORHAM – A proposed new, $3 million stadium for Gorham High School, which would be built on an 85-acre town-owned site known as the Chick property, would feature artificial turf field, lights and bleacher seats for 1,500.

The stadium would be constructed adjacent to the Narragansett Elementary School and the Public Safety Building, and would be home field for Gorham High School varsity teams including football, soccer, field hockey and lacrosse. They now play at a natural grass field that officials say is overused.

“I think it will be an economic development tool. We could have state tournaments,” Matt Robinson, chairman of the Town Council, said this week.

Town councilors are expected to decide in April whether to send the stadium proposal to voters in a June referendum.

“I hope voters like it,” Robinson said.

At the same time, the University of Southern Maine is asking Gorham planners for a permit to build its own artificial turf field on the Gorham campus. A $1.3 million first phase would include installation of the artificial turf and lighting.

A quest for a new high school stadium has been simmering for years in Gorham. The School Committee looked at a concept for an $8 million stadium several years ago. Steve Morin, a Gorham resident who was then a School Committee member, recalled this week that the board then only raised awareness of a stadium concept and hadn’t asked the town for funding. “Members of the council were concerned about cost of a stadium,” Morin said.

Jim Hager, a School Committee member, recalled that timing wasn’t right then and a pitch for the project lacked support.

“It backfired,” Hager said. “It blew up in our faces.”

But Hager feels a stadium now has Town Council and community backing.

The proposal also includes a building that would house locker rooms, restrooms, offices for coaches, concession stands, maintenance, storage and parking lots.

Town Councilor Mike Phinney said a new Gorham facility could have the potential of luring state events like the football tournament held in recent years at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

“No reason a tournament couldn’t come here,” Phinney said.

Phinney said the site off Route 25 in Gorham Village would be easily accessible from other areas of the state. He said the facility would be well constructed, well lighted and would afford “plenty of parking.”

Gorham already has launched spruce-up plans for its downtown. A stadium project, Phinney said, would generate business for vendors, stores and restaurants in Gorham Village.

“It exposes people to Gorham,” Phinney said about the proposed stadium. “It’d be a showcase for the town.”

In a first phase paving way for future development of the site, the town last year constructed an 1,800-foot road through the Chick site, linking Main Street (Route 25) with Gray Road (Route 202). An overdue storm water detention pond that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection required for the town site was also built.

A Chick property master plan calls for several athletic fields eventually at the complex. The proposed stadium would be located near a field where Gorham Grizzlies teams, a middle school-age football program, now play. A public ice-skating rink on the Chick property would need to be relocated to make way for a stadium.

The overall development plans would also include upgrading the present Narragansett School entrance on Main Street for school buses. Access off the connector road to parking would provide a lane to the school for parents and visitors.

Traffic flow reconfigurations would address current safety concerns at the Narragansett School. Expanded parking would serve the stadium as well as the school and Public Safety Building, which also would have traffic circulation improvements.

A new field would lighten the activity load now on the high school field and the cramped high school site, which is saddled with limited parking.

Hager said the field at the high school, which is utilized by both girls and boys teams, has been overused. He said maintenance costs run about $40,000 per year.

“The field never gets a break,” Hager said.

A new artificial turf field could be used seven days a week, Hager said, with low maintenance. The present field at the high school would still be utilized by other school teams.

But varsity teams would have to be bused to the Chick site from the high school, which is “a bit of an obstacle.” However Hager said, there is no available room at the high school to build another field.

“Gorham High School is landlocked,” Hager said.

Tom Poirier, Gorham’s town planner, said the town’s proposed project would require Planning Board approval and an amended site plan permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

The town turf stadium would also be available for use by the University of Southern Maine. However, the university is bringing its own project before the Planning Board on Monday, April 4, for final review.

The university is asking Gorham planners for a permit to convert an existing field to artificial turf. Town and university officials said this week that a joint venture to construct one field wouldn’t have been feasible.

“It was a scheduling nightmare,” Robinson said.

Al Bean, University of Southern Maine athletic director, said Tuesday town and university officials did have some recent talks about a joint venture. “We’re well down on the road on ours,” Bean said.

In a fundraising drive, Bean said Hannaford has donated $250,000; U.S. Soccer Foundation, $200,000; and the Narragansett Number 1 Foundation in Buxton, $25,000. The university has raised $735,000 so far.

The university’s proposal, which includes a 500-seat grandstand, press box, restrooms and concessions to be built following the first phase, still needs Planning Board approval. The university field would be used for lacrosse, field hockey, recreation and sports camps in addition to soccer.

The two sports projects in town could be mutually beneficial. University spokesman Bob Caswell said its turf field would be heavily utilized. The university’s intention to make it available to the community and local school groups as schedules permit, Caswell said.

The two facilities do not represent the first artificial turf field for sports in Gorham. YourSpace, a nonprofit recreational facility on Narragansett Street, has an indoor playing surface for year-round use under a multi-purpose sports dome. It is expanding parking and has plans for an outside grass sports field for a number of team uses.

“It shouldn’t be a conflict,” Sandy Warren, YourSpace general manager, said about plans for artificial turf fields planned by the town and university.

The university hopes to play on its artificial turf field this fall, while a construction start of the town’s proposal this year has hurdles ahead.

According to Town Manager David Cole, if voters approve, construction could get under way this year, but he doubted it would be available for play until 2012.

Town officials are optimistic.

“We’re anxious to play ball,” Hager said.

Gorham is proposing a $3 million stadium project with artificial turf to be built on the town-owned Chick property behind the Public Safety Building. This road connecting routes 25 (Main Street) and 202 (Gray Road) was built through the Chick site last year.
Staff photo by Robert Lowell

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