Cumberland-North Yarmouth board hears pitches for turf field, performing arts center

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CUMBERLAND — The School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors heard reports on two major projects – an artificial turf field and performing arts center – at a workshop Monday.

The 100,000-square-foot turf field, which would be laid on Greely High School’s varsity playing field, could cost nearly $1.6 million and be complete this fall.

A committee is trying to raise as much of that as possible through donations, but funding might ultimately be split between private funds and the school district, committee member Eliza Miller said Monday.

The 30,000-square-foot, 500-seat, performing arts center would include 7,250 square feet of existing space and be primarily connected to the north side of the former Gyger Gymnasium, built in the 1950s and renovated in recent years as part of an expanded Greely High School.

A one-story, 3,000-square-foot addition would be built, too, providing additional performance and media space.

The cost of the center has yet to be estimated, since the project is still in the concept design stage, and its scope is still being determined, project planners said.

The School Board will discuss both projects again during a Jan. 20 retreat.

The turf field would offer greater recreational opportunities for students and the community alike, according to the project committee. While the varsity field is now used fewer than 160 hours a year, a turf surface could increase that more than 10 times, proponents said, for a greater variety of uses.

All pledges toward the surface must be made by June, and the Greely Turf group – which first went before the School Board about two years ago – also plans to approach corporations with connections to the Greely community that want to promote recreational and athletic opportunities.

Improved physical education, fewer rescheduled events due to weather and annual maintenance, earlier practices in the spring, fewer practices held off campus, and less use by school teams of the Twin Brook Recreation Area are among benefits of a turf field touted by the committee.

The field would be guaranteed for eight years and is projected to last as many as 15, according to the group.

The project time-line calls for studies such as geotechnical testing and a storm-water analysis to begin this month, leading up to town staff review, a final design, and submission of a permit application to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in March.

The $75,000 needed for the studies will come from the turf group, which has already raised those funds.

While they said they do not mind the committee using its own money for those studies, School Board members noted it remains to be decided if the project will come to fruition.

Chairwoman Karen Campbell noted that the turf field and performing arts center are not competing projects, since the arts center proposal has a broader time-line.

Jennifer Segal and Mary George, who made the center presentation, suggested the project could be formally presented to Cumberland and North Yarmouth this year and go to referendum in November. Construction could begin in June 2016, with a dedication ceremony in September 2017.

Performing arts centers like those at Falmouth High School and Merrill Auditorium in Portland “offer comfort, unobstructed visuals, a reliable sound system and high-quality acoustics,” George said. “Each time I attend a similar event here at Greely, I wonder why our district does not have a similar facility. Every surrounding community has a performing arts center, showing their support and importance of arts education.”

She added that “MSAD 51 is one of the top districts in the state of Maine. Why don’t we have a performing arts center? Our students, teachers and residents need and deserve one.”

Stephen Blatt, a Cumberland resident whose architectural firm has worked with SAD 51 in building and expanding Greely Middle School, and renovating and expanding the high school, presented a design for the performing arts center.

If the center were built on the north side of the Gyger building, an existing entrance from Main Street would be relocated, Blatt said.

“In attaching this theater … to the north face of the Gyger building, it would allow us to integrate choral, band and orchestra facilities so that this is more than just a performing center; it’s a teaching center,” he said.

A community hall, with its own entrance, would be incorporated into the new space, to facilitate activities like small lectures and community meetings, Blatt added.

With existing parking and some new spaces combined, 439 spaces would be available on the campus to facilitate the center, he said.

The additions would respect the architecture of the 19th century Greely Institute and Gyger building, Blatt said, both of which look out onto Main Street and are now connected to the high school.

The project could require minimal site work, and be built without impacting school operations, he said.

The School Board would have to support the project before it could go to a referendum, Superintendent Jeff Porter said. In the meantime, a building committee would have to be formed to work out details and costs.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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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.