Bath council gives initial OK to borrowing $300K for turf field

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BATH — A bond issue of up to $300,000 for all-weather turf at McMann Field narrowly received initial approval from the City Council Wednesday evening.

The council voted 5-4 to grant first passage to an ordinance that authorizes the borrowing , which will pay for the purchase and installation of 90,000 square feet of turf. The bond will be repaid over 10 years, from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department account.

Councilors Wayne Cochrane, James Omo, Mari Eosco, Andrew Winglass and Chairman Bernard Wyman voted in favor of the bond, while Councilors Sean Paulhus, Kyle Rogers, David Sinclair and Ruthe Pagurko were opposed.

A final vote will take place next month.

While no councilors or members of the public spoke disputed the desirability of a turf field, it was the idea of borrowing money that triggered opposition.

Jackie Dwinal of Washington Street said the city should not be in the business of lending money to a citizens group, in this case the Fields for Our Future Committee. Lending institutions should do that, she said.

“With the economy the way it is now, and not knowing how much money will have to be spent in the budget for operating expenses, and for the schools, it would not be prudent for the city to lend money to anyone at this time,” Dwinal said. “Perhaps the (Fields for Our Future Committee) would like to approach the other towns in (Regional School Unit 1) to see if they would be interested in lending them $300,000, as they also use the fields.”

Sinclair said that many of the residents he has spoken with are concerned about jobs, and the effect of taxes if they lose their jobs.

“None of them said … ‘I feel like my home value is going to go up if we have this great new field,’” Sinclair said, adding later that “I feel like this is a discretionary spending project that we can’t undertake right now.”

Brad Walfield, co-chairman of the Fields for Our Future Committee, said the total cost of the project is about $570,000. His group raised about $270,000 in a two-year fundraising campaign that ended last August.

The committee received a major project donation contingent upon raising $50,000 for a non-athletic community need, Walfield said. Fundraising for the beneficiary, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates, is continuing, he said.

Field installation is slated for June. Walfield said the synthetic surface is durable and can be used far more often than the current natural field, which is at the mercy of overuse or inclement weather.

“This project is not only about installing a turf field; this really is an investment in all of our facilities,” said Steve Balboni, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, explaining that for Bath’s fields to be maintained and be safe, they need rest and care. “When you’re running close to 10,000 hours of usage on all of our facilities, it just does not provide the time to do that properly.”

With artificial turf, though, play can increase in the early spring and late fall, and the improved field will attract an increased number of events, thereby supplying possible income to the field complex and the city, Walfield said.

Chocolate Church, Armory

In other business, the council also gave unanimous support to an application for a Community Development Block Grant to fund historic preservation work at the Chocolate Church Arts Center. The $150,000 grant will be matched by the arts center.

Should the center receive the grant, the money will be used to fix church’s leaking roof. The bell tower will be dismantled and rebuilt with new materials that the Maine State Historic Preservation Commission has approved, in order to replicate the original structure.

Also, City Manager Bill Giroux said state Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, has introduced legislation that would allow the former National Guard Armory on Old Brunswick Road to be sold below its appraised value. The legislation would clear the way for the city to purchase the building for a negotiated price of $175,000, with the intent of making it the new home of the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skatepark. The building has been appraised at more than $300,000.

Giroux noted that the City Council may choose to have Bath’s voters decide on the Skatepark’s move from its current home at the old YMCA.

Goodall said the bill received unanimous support Wednesday from the Joint Standing Committee on Legal and Veterans Affairs.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or [email protected].

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.