BRUNSWICK – A request by Bowdoin College to discontinue Pine Street’s layout in order to construct a new field house as part of its Whittier Field renovations was met with skepticism at a lengthy public hearing Monday night.

Bowdoin’s proposal would discontinue the current street and replace it with a new road oriented 90 degrees from the current one, connecting to Bath Road. As part of the proposal, Bowdoin would incur all costs of constructing the new road, grant an easement to the Pine Street Cemetery plots could still be accessed, and maintain a bike and pedestrian path running along Pine Street’s current location.

“The college is asking town to cede their public access rights to that part of the road to another part,” said Matt Orlando, a senior vice president at Bowdoin.

The plan originated from the college’s meetings with residents of Bowker Street, which intersects Pine Street. According to Orlando, residents said they preferred not having the 9,000-square-foot field house complex on the south side of Whittier Field, close to residents’ homes and Bowker Street.

“It became immediately clear, after a couple of those neighbors meeting, that they prefer that the building be built further away from the street,” said Orlando. “We agreed to look at other options, which meant the north side of the facility.”

Due to constraints of the property and the topography of the area, the building would end up obstructing parts of Pine Street, which led to Bowdoin’s proposal to relocate the road.

A Bowdoin College proposal to build a 9,000-square-foot facility in the current path of Pine Street would require the discontinuance of the road, and neighbors aren’t sold on the studies that show traffic wouldn’t increase. Courtesy of Town of Brunswick

Traffic studies done by both a Bowdoin consultant and an independent consultant hired by the town indicated that the result of moving the street would be slightly higher traffic in the neighborhood, to the tune of a few dozen cars at the busiest times of day. In addition, the studies both concluded that while the new route might attract people trying to cut through the neighborhood to avoid the traffic light at the intersection of Sills Drive and Bath Road, the increase would be minimal.

Residents, however, weren’t buying it. The majority of public comments focused on concerns about the new street becoming a cut-through for anyone trying to avoid the traffic light, with the possibility of new traffic ruining the nature of the neighborhood.

“What I have a problem with is giving up the aesthetic ambiance of Pine Street,” said Richard Hartford, who lives on McLellan Street.

Several other residents agreed, citing concerns about families with small children in the neighborhood.

Other concerns included a general feeling that regardless of resident input, Bowdoin would get its way.

“There’s nobody else in this town, or any business, that would be allowed to take a street back. It’s not going to happen,” said James Minott.

The council debated the topic at length, including questioning whether the college had a longterm plan for the area.

“We ask these questions, we never really get good answers,” said Councilor Sarah Brayman. She expressed concern that the college may make additional plans in the future based on the reconfigured roads. “People always say ‘I told you so, this is exactly what we were afraid of.’”

Orlando said the college has no plans for the area other than the changes to the Whittier Field area.

The council also debated whether the new road, if the plan moves forward, should come with traffic calming measures. Some councilors stated that additional measures should wait until a traffic study, while others wanted things like speed humps and other methods installed from the beginning.

“I think one of the things we need to do is put in some calming methods from the get-go,” said Councilor Jane Millett.

Other ideas such as relocating the building across Pine Street were floated by the council, with the college stating that any construction in that area of their property was a non-starter due to increased costs. Bowdoin’s engineer, Kylie Mason of Sebago Technics, cited steeper grades as prohibitively expensive for construction.

“We are already taking extra costs not building on area ‘A’ (Bowker Street),” said Orlando.

By state statute, council has to wait at least 10 business days before making any decision on the discontinuance of Pine Street. Because Thanksgiving is not counted as a business day, the next regular meeting, Dec. 4, will be too early for council to vote on the subject. However, the council may still take up the issue in order to talk through the proposal, and is also inviting the public to send comments to the council either via mail or email at [email protected].