SACO — Thornton Academy has begun an ambitious capital campaign to raise funds to build an athletic field house and renovate Linnell Gymnasium, home to its basketball and volleyball programs.

The 40,000-square foot field house would include a five-lane track, three basketball courts, three tennis courts, four volleyball courts and an indoor soccer field. The field house would be built as an addition to the back of Linnell Gymnasium, which opened in 1963 and would get a new floor, bleachers, electrical system, heating system and plumbing, with a fitness center, multi-purpose room, golf simulator and upgraded locker rooms.

Headmaster Rene Menard said the project will cost “in the range of $12 million.” The school has raised $2 million in what Menard called the quiet phase of the capital campaign, where school officials spoke directly to individuals. Now that the project has been announced, they hope to raise another $1 million by the end of 2019.

Construction would then begin in the spring of 2020, with the renovation of Linnell Gymnasium (which will retain its name) to finish in 2021. The project would require a three- to four-month period when Linnell Gymnasium would be closed for renovations. That would likely force the volleyball team to play a season in the field house, with hopes the basketball seasons wouldn’t be affected.

The project will be privately funded. The school also is selling naming rights to various aspects of the project.

“Absolutely we can do this,” said Menard, a 1988 graduate of Thornton Academy. “It’s going to take a lot of work, but we’re in. We’re committed.”

Thornton Academy is a private school that also serves as the high school for students in Saco, Dayton and Arundel. It has the second-largest enrollment in the state (1,412 according to the Maine Principals’ Association), bolstered by 215 international students who stay at three dormitories.

Menard stressed that the field house will be open for use by the public when it doesn’t interfere with Thornton activities. It also will be used to enhance the school’s intramural sports offerings.

The project has been talked about over the last decade but took a backseat to other developments on campus, including the construction of dorms, new classrooms, a library, technology and media center, dance studio and science labs.

“Those took precedence,” said Kevin Kezal, Thornton’s football coach. “We took care of the academic piece and the dorms. Now we’re at the point where this is the next big project.”

School officials feel it is a badly needed one. As the school’s enrollment has grown, so too has its athletic offerings. The school now has 26 Maine Principals’ Association athletic programs – with wrestling on the way – as well as four teams that compete in MAISAD, a private-school league.

Athletic Director Gary Stevens said the school simply doesn’t have enough indoor space for everyone. In the winter, for example, the Trojans had teams practicing until 10:30 p.m. at Linnell. Students at Thornton Academy Middle School also use the facilities.

“We have had to be very creative in terms of the space we use, the times that we use that space,” said Stevens. “We have had to look at rental opportunities to send people to when we need practice space or competition space for the middle school.

“We have been very creative with closets here at Linnell Gymnasium over the years. There’s everything in closets except things that should be in closets. We have used them as weight rooms, we have treadmills stored in some. And the time has come to re-examine our space.”

The indoor track team certainly would benefit from the field house. The team has been practicing for 75 minutes in Linnell, its sprinters and hurdlers racing diagonally across the basketball court, its jumpers working out on the stage, its distance runners going outside when the weather is good.

“The kids can actually do real workouts on the track and we’ll know how far they’re actually running, and how fast they’re running as opposed to going out to a measured distance on the pavement outside when it’s not snowing,” said track coach George Mendros. “That will give our kids a huge advantage.”

Of course, there is much fundraising to do even before construction begins. But John Ritzo, Thornton’s associate head of advancement, believes it will get done.

“It’s a lot of work and it takes time, but we have the story to tell and Thornton has the tradition of success,” he said. “Everybody loves to talk about their high school days. You have that bond to your high school.”

Menard added, “This is a project that resonates with our alums. We’ve been thrilled with the response.”

Thornton alumni from across the decades are making significant contributions.

Roger Miles, class of 1965, was looking for a way to contribute not only to the school but to Saco. When Miles, who played three sports at Thornton, heard about this project, he researched it and found “what they were doing was pretty positive and terrific, and if I could supply some fuel to help them complete the plan, it would be good for everybody and the town of Saco. I feel good about it.”

Jenny Hadiaris, class of 2001, also competed in three sports for the Trojans. She now works as a stock trader in New York and is a member of the school’s capital campaign committee. She saw this as an opportunity to not only help the school but to honor her father, Leon Hadiaris, a retired Thornton teacher who still runs five miles a day. She and her family bought the naming rights to the field house track at a cost of $100,000.

“The track is meaningful for the whole family,” said Jenny Hadiaris. “I just think this is an incredible cause and I think about the broader aspects of it. This is something I can see my dad using, my family using. And if that’s the case, this isn’t just a donation to Thornton, but it serves a purpose for Saco, too.”

Joel Levesque, class of 1985, said he wanted to give back to the school “that launched me into my life.” After high school, Levesque attended West Point and served in the army until retiring in 2011. He played football and was a discus thrower in high school.

He said he was inspired by all the people he saw contribute to Thornton while he was a student there. Now living in Fairfax, Virginia, he returns to Maine once a month – “To recharge,” he said – and instantly became involved in the project. As a member of the capital campaign committee, he’s reaching out to Thornton alumni in the Washington area, as well as former classmates, trying to raise $75,000 so they can dedicate a room to the class of 1985.

“I want to reconnect with them,” he said. “And this is a great way to connect with them on a project to benefit a place I love very dearly and want to see do better.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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