Although the success of a group of private citizens in Cape Elizabeth was already evident as construction crews laid the foundation for a new turf field outside the high school this week, questions have recently arisen about the financing behind the field and the decision to sew lines for mostly male sports permanently onto it.

In an effort to allay concerns and answer questions, Town Manager Mike McGovern made a presentation Thursday on the turf field, with representatives of Kids Turf, the local fundraising group, at his side.

During the presentation, McGovern apologized for poor communication on the project and promised to keep school committee members and town councilors more informed in the future. To shed light on the decision to exclude two girls sports – field hockey and lacrosse – from the permanent lines on the field, he took the unusual step of printing out all the e-mails between town officials and representatives from Kids Turf and the company installing the field.

“For failings I’ve had on this project, I freely own up to them,” McGovern said.

At the meeting, school committee members and town councilors questioned why a committee that had been formed to oversee the project hadn’t met since last summer.

They questioned why the town was now contributing so much money to a project that had once been pitched as something that would be supported primarily through private donations. They also questioned why decisions had been made without public votes or the support of town officials.

McGovern said 680 contributors donated a total of $817,000 to Kids Turf to build the field. However, according to McGovern and representatives of Kids Turf, that money won’t cover the cost of installing bleachers at the field, and town councilors voted against spending tax money on them.

The town council has decided to dedicate $50,000 from the town’s undesignated surplus fund to start another fund that would be used to replace the turf field in 10 to 15 years. In addition, the town council and the school board will each budget $7,000 to be placed in that fund every year, beginning with this year.

McGovern had also proposed including $150,000 in the town’s capital improvement budget to pay for bleachers at the field, but the council voted to remove the item from the budget.

In an interview, McGovern said he did not believe either of the expenditures he proposed should be considered as a breach of the promise that taxpayers would not be burdened by the turf field. He said that talk about adding bleachers has been going on for 20 years, but has been delayed by other priorities and the fact that it was not clear what the primary playing field was.

Now that it has been determined, as Athletic Director Keith Weatherbie announced at the presentation, that every varsity team this fall will play every home game on the turf field, McGovern said, “it is pretty clear where the bleachers ought to go.”

Because town councilors voted against paying for the bleachers, Kids Turf is continuing to raise money to pay for them, as well as a concession stand. However, McGovern is concerned that fundraising resources in town are tapped out.

The issue that was the subject of the most discussion at the meeting was the decision to sew permanent lines into the field for football, boys lacrosse and boys and girls soccer, excluding girls lacrosse and field hockey. Those lines would be painted. In order to clarify why this decision was made, McGovern provided copies of a book that included all of the e-mails sent and received regarding this issue.

A few other e-mails not directly-related to the line issue were also in the book, including a pair of e-mails exchanged between McGovern and Scarborough Town Council Chairman Jeff Messer regarding Cape Elizabeth’s decision to choose Northeast Turf over Sports Turf International – the company that installed the Scarborough turf field. In his e-mail, Messer said he heard that Sports Turf International had placed a significantly lower bid on the Cape Elizabeth field and questioned why it was passed over, calling Sports Turf International’s field “at minimum, a better product.” McGovern responded by explaining that the bids between the two companies were closer than Messer suggested and that Kids Turf decided to go with a different type of field from Sports Turf International offers. It is unclear why McGovern included these e-mails in a book regarding the line issue.

Addressing the issue of the sewn lines, Michael Ott, of Kids Turf, explained at the meeting that the group originally wanted all five sets of lines sewn into the field, despite recommendations against it.

“We wanted to put as many lines down as possible,” he said, but he was warned that, with too many lines on the field, athletes could get confused. In looking into the sports more closely, Ott said he had reason to believe there was a good possibility that the lines and boundaries for both girls lacrosse and field hockey could change within the next few years. Both sports have already changed their rules within the past six years, according to Andrew Manning, manager for Pinkham and Greer, consulting engineers for the project. The process of pulling up sewn lines would be costly and time consuming. If lines are painted rather than sewn, they would fade by season’s end. Also, by painting the lines for the two sports that are played in different seasons, it would mean that at most four sets of lines rather than five would be on the field.

Councilor Sara Lennon said, for her, the most compelling issue would be the visibility of the lines. “Permanent versus painted is irrelevant,” she said. “Can we make the girls lines bright and visible?” she asked, suggesting that white lines be used for a sport other than football. However, Manning said, it was too late for that decision because the lines had already been sewn into the turf.

School board member Tricia Weyand expressed her frustration with the fact that decision was never voted on by anyone in the town, which brought up another question: What happened to the town turf field committee?

The committee was made up of two representatives from the school board and two from the council. Only one, school board member Kevin Sweeney, is still in office. According to Sweeney, the committee stopped meeting sometime around the fall of 2006. McGovern explained that once the construction phase has begun, committees such as this one usually stop meeting. However, it was clear that decisions were still being made after the committee, which McGovern said still exists on paper, stopped scheduling to meet.

At the presentation, McGovern apologized for failing to keep the boards better informed. “The communication was there,” he said, “but I agree there was a major breakdown.”

School board Chairwoman Kathy Ray said she heard a lot of rumors and was asked a lot of questions, but was unable to answer them accurately or at all due to the lack of communication between those running the project and town officials.

“What I want to make sure going forward is that we have a plan,” Ray said regarding getting the facts to all parties involved.

Councilor Mary Ann Lynch suggested that the committee restart.

“We’re here tonight because that committee was created and for some reason wasn’t utilized,” she said.

Sweeney said he had the same frustrations, but assigning blame for the lack of communication or the break of the committee wasn’t important.

“I’m trying to fix the process,” Sweeney said.

McKenney, who had kicked off the meeting, also closed it.

“We have a great field,” he said. “We should feel really good about this as a community.”

Lines of communication: Cape manager apologizes for lapses in communication after officials raise questions about turf projectLines of communication: Cape manager apologizes for lapses in communication after officials raise questions about turf project


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