Bath council to vote in Sept. on terms for turf field

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BATH — The City Council plans at its Sept. 1 meeting to vote on an its terms for supporting installation of artificial turf at McMann Field.

Key is a provision that the Fields for Our Future committee, which has so far raised about $270,000 for the project and had asked the council to approve borrowing the remaining funds, will raise all the funds for the installation.

The order would also call for revenue generated by the field to be set aside in reserve funds for later replacement of the field, and for a five-year deadline on the fundraising effort.

Although the City Council voted 5-4 on Feb. 3 in favor of borrowing up to $300,000 for the turf field, opponents concerned about city funds being spent on the project gathered more than 1,000 petition signatures to reverse the decision. The council sent the matter to a June 8 referendum, where voters defeated the proposal 1,522 to 861.

Bath Parks and Recreation Director Steve Balboni noted at a City Council workshop Wednesday that June’s vote was about how the project would be funded, as opposed to whether the artificial turf should be installed. He said the Fields for Our Future committee has grown and plans a grassroots effort to raise the money needed.

“Our biggest concern right now is that the vision from outside is that the city may not support the project, and we may lose people that have pledged money,” Balboni said.

Despite the outcome of the June vote, he said, “there’s still that need (for the turf field); that doesn’t change one bit. We have a facilities need. That’s the bottom line.”

Proponents of the turf field have noted that its durability and ability to be used more often would produce more opportunities for events and revenue. Opponents have argued that the project would be an unnecessary luxury in the current economic climate.

Councilor Kyle Rogers, who helped gather signatures for the petition, noted that during a presentation on the turf field project in July 2007, a motion was passed to support Fields for Our Future’s fundraising effort.

“I still stick with that,” he said. “… That’s what we’ve said from the get-go: ‘go out and raise the money.’ And it was also stated at that meeting that there would be no tax dollars used in funding, or in maintenance or replacement, of the field. And I stick with that.”

Council Chairman Bernie Wyman said it is his understanding that once the field is in place, its capacity for greater use would help fund maintenance and replacement.

Balboni confirmed that, and said the mission is to get youths outside playing sports more frequently, and to do so in the most cost-effective way possible.

Kate Bussey, a Bath Middle School girls lacrosse coach, said that while the maintenance crew does its best with McMann Field, “the surface … is not great.”

Noting that the existing field is blamed for causing injuries, she said “we’ve discussed this in terms as if it’s a luxury, and I really think it’s actually an essential.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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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.