Craig Sickels compares the situation to having one classroom for three math classes.

One group of students is in the room, another is in the hallway, the third uses the cafeteria, “and halfway through the period you switch,” he said.

That’s the “academic equivalent” to Freeport’s 30 soccer teams practicing and playing games on two fields, said Sickels, athletic administrator for Regional School Unit 5.

“By the end of the season, we’re not playing on grass. We’re playing on mud and dirt,” he said. “The field takes a beating.”

Three interrelated projects would add 11 new fields in town in the next two years. One of the proposals — to build four multipurpose fields and three baseball diamonds off Hunter Road — took a significant step forward this week when the Town Council approved spending $2.3 million on the Freeport Fields and Trails Project.

At the same time, soccer club Seacoast United Maine is planning to build three artificial turf fields — two outdoor and one enclosed — on adjacent town-owned land. Councilors decided to give the property to the soccer club, at no cost, in exchange for playing time on the fields.

Youth and middle school sports teams would be the primary users of the new fields, Sickels said. That would free up the crowded Freeport High School facilities, which also are poised for an upgrade.

Residents of Freeport, Durham and Pownal — the three towns in RSU 5 — will vote in June on a $2.9 million bond to build an eight-lane track at the high school around a new artificial turf field with lights and bleachers.

Sickels said the Hunter Road and high school projects are both necessary to fulfill Freeport’s needs, which were outlined in a 2009 report that looked at all the sports teams in town.

Town Manager Dale Olmstead said the lack of athletic fields has been an issue as long as he’s worked for Freeport. In fact, he said, it was one of the first concerns that councilors brought to him when he was hired.

“That was 29 years ago,” said Olmstead. “This is long overdue.”

With a desire to see the longtime need fulfilled, a group of a half-dozen local residents and business owners started working privately last fall on a proposal for the town to buy 37 acres off Hunter Road and build fields, a recreation lodge and a trail to nearby Hedgehog Mountain.

“Before we announced it to the public, we wanted to know what we could do with the land,” said David Latulippe, a member of Freeport Fields and Trails.

Meanwhile, the school district was fleshing out its own plans for more fields. A committee, led by Sickels, found out about the Hunter Road project in January and the two groups realized they could both cut costs if they coordinated their plans. The district shrunk its project from $3.6 million to $2.9 million.

The Hunter Road project also helped resurrect plans abandoned by Seacoast United, which had been eyeing the town land for the past year but was told the amount of wetlands there would accommodate only two fields, instead of the three that they wanted to build.

The soccer club negotiated with Freeport Fields and Trails to put the third field on its property in exchange for giving the town exclusive use of that field for six months every year.

Construction of the Hunter Road fields is slated to start this summer, and they’d be ready for use by the fall of 2012. The Seacoast project would coincide with that, Olmstead said.

If voters approve the high school track and artificial turf field, the complex could open in the spring of 2013, said Sickels.

The Freeport Fields and Trails group still needs to raise just over $1 million for maintenance and the recreation lodge, which would have changing rooms, concession space and observation decks.

Councilors considered asking for a bond for the project, but ultimately decided to use $2.3 million from its excess fund balance, which comes from revenue earned beyond the town’s projections. That money has been accumulating for the past 10 years, Olmstead said.

In addition to answering the local sports teams’ call for more places to play, Olmstead said, the town expects the new amenities to bring more people into Freeport. “We think that’s going to be a real economic boost for the town,” he said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at

[email protected]

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.