A rendering of Brunswick’s proposed upgrades to its Pickard Field athletic complex. Contributed by Bowdoin College

Brunswick residents warned the town’s Planning Board Tuesday night that Bowdoin College’s proposed upgrades to its Pickard Field athletic complex could harm the surrounding neighborhood by producing light, noise and chemical pollution.

College officials say the $15 million project, which as currently imagined will include the installation of three artificial turf fields, 21 new light stanchions, seating and more, will help student-athletes by solving longstanding scheduling problems caused by a lack of practice space in the early spring.

Ten residents attending Tuesday’s sketch plan development review meeting urged the Planning Board to consider the project’s impact on the wider community.

“I think there are some serious concerns here, not just with changes to the noise and the lights, but also the environmental issues of artificial turf,” said Aaron Kitch, a Bowdoin English professor who lives next to the complex. “There’s a lot that’s unknown about the effects of these fields, but the preliminary research is not good.”

Facilities staff can easily clear artificial turf fields, including Bowdoin’s Whittier Field, of snow and ice, making it possible for the school’s varsity athletes to practice outdoors earlier in the spring, according to the request for sketch plan development review signed drafted by Kylie Mason of Sebago Technics, Inc. Combined with the installation of outdoor lighting, the turf will help ease a logjam of practices at Farley Field House that can currently run until 11 p.m.

“We’ve had continual problems with the condition of these fields due to weather, shading and lack of daylight,” said Matthew Orlando, Bowdoin’s senior vice president for finance and administration. “This is about improving the experience for our existing students.”


Several residents expressed concerns that artificial turf fields would expose the community to PFAS, a class of chemicals researchers have linked to several types of cancer. They pointed to other communities, including Boston, that have recently limited the synthetic playing surfaces.

Bowdoin College spokesperson Doug Cook stressed the school’s plans have not been finalized and that the project team is researching the impact of synthetic turf.

“We are aware of concerns about artificial turf and PFAS and are working with our peers, consultants and vendors to understand product options, composition and their sourcing,” Cook wrote in an email. “We continue to research turf materials and evaluate relevant data. Information about whatever playing surface is chosen as a result of this research will be included in the college’s final plan submission.”

Speakers also voiced concerns about possible noise and light pollution from athletics events that could now begin earlier in the spring and run later into the night. Some pushed for a written agreement with Bowdoin College that would limit the facility’s hours of operations, a step Mason said the college is unlikely to take.

Resident Ben Swan, who called the proposal “outrageous,” said the college’s lack of interest in meeting the community halfway was part of a longstanding pattern.

“It flies in the face of what Bowdoin College purports to be teaching its students,” he said. “It is not serving the community. It is not serving the greater good, no matter what they say.”


Yet several other speakers expressed hope that the Planning Board could help residents and the college find workable solutions that would satisfy everyone.

“We support the college in so many ways. We don’t mind when … students take the shortcuts through our yard and sometimes leave cans of Natty Light — an homage, I like to think, to our classes,” said Allison Cooper, a professor of romance languages and cinema studies at Bowdoin College. “We just want to try to preserve the neighborly character of this amazing environment.”

Now that the Planning Board has voted to approve the sketch plan, the college will develop and submit a final site development permit application, which will include detailed information about the project and how it relates to Brunswick’s zoning codes, according to Cook. After hosting a second informational meeting for homeowners neighboring the athletics complex, Bowdoin hopes to receive approval from the Brunswick Staff Review Committee and Planning Board as well as the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

The college plans to begin construction next spring and finish in time for its spring 2024 sports season.

Comments are not available on this story.