BIDDEFORD — Once the grandest high school football facility in Maine, historic Waterhouse Field is barren and deserted on a sunny, summer day.

The 360-by-160-foot clover-dotted grass field is still green, but the metal and wooden bleachers are gone. Capable of seating up to 6,000 football fans, the bleachers were deemed unsafe in April, causing the field to be closed.

Six thick wooden light stanchions have been cut down at waist level and the dented cone-shaped lights piled in front of the visiting locker room. Two dumpsters are filled with wood and other non-salvageable demolition debris.

But this is a temporary condition.

Waterhouse Field has been stripped down so it can rise again.

“There’s going to be some challenges but the goal is to play all of our games there this fall,” said Dennis Walton, Biddeford High’s athletic director.

New lights, a new 24-foot high scoreboard with video playback capability, a refurbished free-standing press box, and new perimeter fencing along West and Prospect streets are expected to be in place when Biddeford opens its football season Sept. 1 against Westbrook.

Temporary bleachers will be used this season, but permanent bleachers designed to seat 1,550 fans on the home side and 500 more on the visiting side have been ordered from E&D Specialty Stands of North Collins, New York, the same company that installed bleachers last year at Massabesic High.

There’s no plan to replace the end zone seats, which were the first to be closed for safety reasons. Those also have been removed.

It’s expected the new bleachers will be installed in late October or after the fall athletic seasons are over.

The new bleachers, featuring a steep 30-degree pitch, will be installed in anticipation of increasing the field width to 185 feet to accommodate soccer. But, because the design will eliminate the walkway and fence that were between the old bleachers and the field, Waterhouse will retain its signature intimacy.

“The feature I’m most excited about at the new Waterhouse is the pitch will be steeper so you’ll feel like you’re really on top of the action,” said Biddeford football coach Brian Curit.

Installing an artificial playing surface hasn’t been approved, Walton said, but construction is being done with that possibility in mind.

Construction is being overseen by a Biddeford resident, Jim Godbout, president of the Waterhouse Field Alumni Association, the nonprofit group that owns the facility and leases the field to the city for $1 annually.

Godbout is donating his services as the general contractor.

Because Waterhouse is privately owned, demolition and preparation work could be expedited, Godbout said.

“We took down 6,000 seats in a day and did it all with volunteers,” Walton said. “That day was symbolic.”

The process picked up pace after the Biddeford City Council approved using $1.17 million saved from refinancing the $34 million Biddeford High renovation project for repairs at Waterhouse and the high school’s outdoor track. About $840,000 has been earmarked for Waterhouse.

“If this was school- or city-owned, we would have had to put everything out to bid, get three bids, and it would have taken two years to get done,” said Godbout, who owns a plumbing and heating company.

Godbout said the major expenditures – bleachers, lights and scoreboard – did use a bid process. Installation of four new light structures by Musco Lighting will begin Aug. 20. Godbout noted the new lights will use “about 10 percent” of the electricity the old lights used and “will illuminate the field, not the neighborhood.”

The scoreboard should be installed around the same time, Godbout said.

For other work, Godbout has called on volunteers and associates in the construction industry.

“And we have had tremendous support from the community. When we talked about the cost of the project, everyone talked about bleachers and lights and a press box, but there’s also a lot of infrastructure costs that weren’t factored in,” Godbout said. “It’s very expensive and we’re using a lot of in-kind services.”

As an example, Godbout pointed to the 12-by-24-foot scoreboard, which he believes will be the first in the state to have video capability. The cost of the scoreboard, covered in part by private donors, didn’t include a support structure, so Godbout has contracted a local welder to construct one.

The existing buildings at Waterhouse will stay, including the Ruth Travers Memorial Fieldhouse that includes the concession stand and Biddeford’s locker room. Needed maintenance, like new doors and paint, are part of the plan.

After the new bleachers are installed, the next big decision will be whether to install an artificial surface costing approximately $1 million.

Godbout said artificial surface would increase the field use from 100 to more than 500 hours per year. Walton said it would be a great boost for non-football programs, and would eliminate concerns about weather and overuse ruining the field.

Curit, the football coach, agrees.

“I’m a firm believer that every varsity team should be playing their games there. This is our stadium field,” Curit said.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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