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BRUNSWICK — Following a vote by the School Board on Wednesday night, the council will now decide whether to apply for a grant of up to $300,000 to help replace the Brunswick High School track.
The money would come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a state program through the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, and would require a 50 percent match.
The Board voted 4-1 August 22 to apply for the grant, with Board member William Thompson opposed.
The grant is for up to $300,000, which would be a significant boost to the track replacement project. A 2016 study found refurbishing the track would cost about $860,000.
Thompson said he was concerned about the area of land that will be designated by the state for protection and managed for public recreation in perpetuity, which is required for grant money to be received.
Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said earlier in the meeting that applicants do not find out “the boundary and acreage” of the land that will be designated as protected until after applying for the grant.
“I don’t know some of the details but if it impacts our ability to build future buildings, it impacts our ability to expand roadways if we need to once it’s in conservation,” he said. “For $300,000 that seems like giving a lot and not getting a ton in return.”
RunBrunswick, a local nonprofit that has raised $83,000 for the effort to replace the track over the last 18 months, is hopeful the town will opt to apply.
RunBrunswick Co-Founder Barry Logan said the grant would be “significant” to the group’s effort.
“This is a source of federal funding to offset some of the costs for outdoor recreation areas,” he said. “The town is in the very midst right now of contemplating putting together an application to the Land and Water Conservation Fund to cover some of the costs associated with the upgrade of the track.”
Town Manager John Eldridge said via email Aug. 22 that due to the estimated cost of the project and potential funding sources, the School Board would likely include the track project in a capital project in a future request to the Town Council.
According to Eldridge, the town would need to be the official applicant for the grant funding, which means Town Council approval is required. Due to the projected price tag of the project, he said there would be “sufficient costs” to meet the match.
The 23-year-old track, which is cracked and has grass growing through it in several areas, was deemed a safety hazard two years ago and was added to a listed of major facilities slated for replacement by the School Department.
Logan said Brunswick High School has not hosted a home track meet at its facility in two years.
According to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation’s website, Land and Water Conservation Fund grants assist federal, state and local government in the acquisition and development of “public outdoor recreation facilities.”
Logan said the town has had success with the program in the past, and called it a “vital program nationally,” but the next step for the town is to think through “how to put forward the kinds of commitments that everyone is comfortable with.”
One of the commitments the town would need to make to meet expectations for the grant is long-term preservation of the area.
Logan attended a mandated site visit to the track with town officials and state staff recently, where they discussed the grant process.
However, fundraising without a town commitment has been somewhat difficult, he said.
“It is challenging; we find it’s challenging to fundraise absent a town commitment,” he said. “That question is posed to us in our solicitations with some regularity. We’re hopeful that we’re working towards that with the capital improvement plan process at the schools, and then ultimately the town.”
A lot of the fundraising effort, he added, is centered on the local business community and families in Brunswick and the surrounding towns. However, the group is also seeking potential opportunities for what he called “significant funding” from statewide foundations and other avenues as well.
RunBrunswick was formed in March 2017, with a 10-person board composed mostly of parents with children in the school system.
Last spring, the group met with town and school officials to discuss fundraising, and came to the conclusion that RunBrunswick could feasibly raise $250,000 independently.
Logan said though the figure is a “steep climb” from the $83,000 raised so far, members of the group also feel it is achievable.
“And if we can get some foundation support and the town support, we can get this done in a way that’s going to serve students in a timely manner,” he said.
Serving students is one of the key drivers for the group’s effort.
Brunswick High School’s home track meets are now held in Lisbon, Logan said, which can be a burden not only on families who may not be able to travel to those meets, but also a “psychic burden” on athletes.
His group is working towards trying to have funding in place by spring or summer 2019.
He also said track programs are “really important” to schools, and among other benefits welcome many different body types.
“It fits a niche that is just so central to the development of kids that I feel like the track itself is a core facility,” he said. “So that’s our commitment on RunBrunswick’s part to this facility (and) to this effort.”
The Brunswick High School track is visibly weathered, with cracks and grass growing through its surface in several areas.
Barry Logan, co-founder of the local nonprofit RunBrunswick, stands near the aging track at Brunswick High School, which was deemed a safety hazard two years ago.
Logan stands on the semi-circle formerly used for high jump at the Brunswick High School track.