Freeport athletic field plans may include $3M bond

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FREEPORT — Members of the Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors will work with the Athletic and Recreational Facilities Advisory Committee and the Freeport Fields and Trails Committee over the next three weeks to create a unified vision for athletic fields and trails.

The two committees have announced separate plans to create facilities for students and community members. At a Feb. 16 meeting, the RSU 5 board voted unanimously to combine them and unite the projects.

The school advisory group wants the RSU board to support a $2.9 million bond that will create an athletic complex at the high school including an artificial turf field, track, lights and bleachers.

At the same time, the Freeport Fields and Trails Committee, made up of five residents and business owners, presented a plan on Feb. 15 that addresses the shortage of athletic fields in Freeport. With its own funds, the group purchased 34 acres of land on Hunter Road to create fields and trails to use for practice, games and tournaments. The project is estimated to cost $3.5 million.

Its vision is to create four new youth playing fields for soccer, field hockey, lacrosse and youth football; three baseball diamonds for Little League baseball and softball; 10 to 20 kilometers of trails for cross-country running, Nordic skiing, hiking, mountain biking and snowshoeing; a sledding hill and a two-story recreational lodge with a meeting room, concession facility, bathrooms and changing rooms.

The project is sponsored by the Freeport Economic Development Corp. and has the support of students, coaches, parents, neighbors and local restaurant and hotel owners.

While the 16-member advisory group made up of Durham, Freeport and Pownal residents; parents; coaches and town councilors has been working to create a plan to present to the RSU board to create an athletic complex at Freeport High School, they modified their proposal based on the Hunter Road project.

Craig Sickels, RSU 5 athletic administrator and a member of the advisory committee, said the fields proposed at the Hunter Road location would address some of the conflicting scheduling issues at the middle school. Since the fields at Hunter Road would be available for practice and game use, many of the overcrowding and overlapping issues would be resolved and the need to reconfigure the fields at the middle and high school would be unnecessary.

Sickels said after February vacation the two groups would meet in order to work together on a unified plan.

“We ask that the RSU 5 board make an official request to the Town Council and Hunter Road group to unite the committees so that one vision, one voice, one comprehensive campaign and financial strategies can be developed,” he said. “We recommend the RSU board make this investment and we ask voters to support a June 2011 bond.”

Some RSU members asked for more details on the plan’s operating budget, the maintenance plan, the debt service obligations and financial burden of the plan for the school budget and taxpayers.

According to RSU 5 Financial Director Kelly Wentworth, based on a $2.9 million proposal, the payment over 15 years would be about $300,000 a year shared between Freeport, Pownal and Durham. Under the school district’s shared-debt formula, Pownal would be responsible for 12.6 percent, Freeport would pay 65.98 percent and Durham would contribute 21.42 percent.

The RSU board asked that the newly formed group to present more financial information on the operational and bond costs of the RSU project at the next meeting scheduled for March 9. They asked that the committee talk to FEDC and the municipal governing bodies in the three communities to explain the unified vision, the RSU component of the project and gain an understanding of the level of support.

Superintendent Shannon Welsh said by the next meeting on March 9 the board will have answers to their questions. 

“We need to know about bond costs and operational costs and by that time the Town Council will have discussed it as well,” she said. “I take this as a positive. It was a unanimous vote to combine the efforts of all groups and move forward.”

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net

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