BRUNSWICK — Bowdoin College and the town are in preliminary discussions about rerouting Pine Street to make way for a second phase of construction at the college’s renovation of Whittier Field.
It’s an idea that has previously troubled some in neighborhood, although a college spokesman said Tuesday that the preferred design, which is still conceptual, would not make nearby residential streets into cut-throughs from Bath Road to Harpswell Road.
If the rerouting takes place, it would likely follow a discontinuance of the street just before the abutting cemetery, making it a dead end just before it reaches Bath Road. Both actions would require approval by the Town Council, and are set to move through separate Planning Board reviews.
The announcement by Town Manager John Eldridge at Monday’s council meeting, was the first public confirmation of the college’s desire to move forward on the project, although the plan had surfaced as a vague concept in past meetings.
When the Whittier Field renovation – to transform the historic grass field into a turf field with stadium lighting – was made public in March, residents at a neighborhood meeting told college officials they were concerned it would initiate plans to reroute Pine Street.
They speculated that Bowker Street, which intersects with Harpswell Road and Pine Street, would see an increase in traffic by becoming a shortcut to Bath Road, according to resident Mark Battle.
At that point, a college representative told Battle that the rerouted road was not part of the Whittier Field project.
“I did not tell (Battle) that the road was never going to happen,” Catherine Ferdinand recalled in a March interview. “What I told him was, it’s not part of this project.”
Plans have now changed. The rerouted road is what Eldridge described to councilors as an integral part of the project’s second phase, which is still at a conceptual stage, but calls for the construction of a locker room and restroom building.
College spokesman Scott Hood said Tuesday that Ferdinand’s comments were true at the time she made them in March, but since then, public input at a May Planning Board meeting to approve Phase I caused the college to change its plans.
Initially, he said, the building was proposed for the eastern side of Whittier Field adjacent to Bowker Street.
But after hearing public concern that the building would direct departing athletes and bus traffic onto the quiet street, Hood said the college is working to move the location to the other side of the field, opposite Pine Street.
He also doubted that the proposed new route would increase congestion on Bowker Street from cars coming from Bath or Harpswell Road, citing an earlier traffic study the college conducted.
The study has not yet been submitted to the Planning Board, and Hood noted that at this early stage, “It would be wrong to say that it would be the definitive study.”
He also described the early proposal for the rerouted design as no more convenient for cars wishing to speed up their trips by skipping the intersection at Sills Drive and Bath Road, because they’d likely confront stop signs and several turns.
That design, which councilors received Monday, would truncate Pine Street at the eastern edge of Whittier field and create a right-hand turn, perpendicular to Bath Road.
Bowdoin is the only entity that owns property abutting the portion of Pine Street proposed to be discontinued.
Councilors on Monday seemed to support the idea that the road should be re-routed if Pine Street becomes a dead end.
Councilor Dan Harris, who represents the neighborhood, addressed his constituents’ concerns, but also acknowledged that the proposal is intended to reduce bus traffic on Bowker Street.
Councilor John Perreault noted that cars headed south toward Harpswell Road are already able to skip the intersection with Sills Drive by way of Pine Street; Scott Hood added Tuesday that northbound cars turning right on Bath Road have a yield sign at the intersection, meaning they already skip the traffic signal.
No members of the public spoke about the issue Monday. Battle – whose input on Phase I of the project prompted the Planning Board to make its approval conditional on Bowdoin verifying its compliance with the local noise ordinance – said in an email Wednesday morning that he had not been aware of the discussion and would review the design with neighbors.
Hood said the college is continuing to assemble more concrete plans for Phase II, to be submitted in September or October at the earliest.
Brunswick town councilors were presented July 17 with this preliminary design for discontinuing and rerouting Pine Street. The project would make way for Phase II of Bowdoin College’s renovation of Whittier Field.