The Brunswick Planning Board voted Tuesday to table Bowdoin College’s proposed Pickard Field Athletic Complex upgrades while a third party reviews evidence showing the project will not introduce PFAS — a class of chemicals linked to several types of cancer — into the area.

The board’s decision, which came at the recommendation of Planning Department staff, will push final approval of Bowdoin’s $15 million development to Jan. 18.

In the meantime, the town will hire a scientist or scientific consulting group to review testing submitted by Bowdoin indicating the turf fields it plans to purchase will contain only trace amounts of PFAS at levels far below limits set by the EPA and the country’s most restrictive individual states. (Maine has not set soil concentration guidelines for the specific PFAS compounds in question.)

The college will reimburse Brunswick the cost of the review, according to Town Manager John Eldridge.

“Peer reviews are not unusual, but they are infrequent, as staff typically has the expertise to review most components of an application,” Eldridge wrote in an email. “Addressing the environmental concerns associated with PFAS requires a level of scientific expertise well beyond the capacity of town staff.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, several speakers from Bowdoin’s athletics department discussed the need for the Pickard upgrades, which will include the installation of three new turf fields, stadium seating, more than two dozen dark-sky compliant light towers and more.


Women’s soccer coach Brianne Smithson and softball coach Ryan Sullivan said the lengthening of the academic day, combined with an overbooked practice schedule in William Farley Field House, has heaped pressure on student athletes in recent years.

Unable to practice on grass fields in the year’s early months, Bowdoin’s spring athletes must instead share limited indoor space. As a result, some teams don’t finish practice until after midnight, making it a challenge for some athletes to balance sports and schoolwork.

“We do always put academics first, but they feel very invested in both,” Smithson said. “They feel like they need to choose.”

The proposed turf fields, which can be easily cleared of ice and snow and would come equipped with lights, would allow teams to move outside earlier in the year, according to college officials.

Community members, some of whom lobbied the council to pass a moratorium that would have stopped Bowdoin from moving forward with its plan, expressed sympathy with the college’s athletes during the public comment section of Tuesday’s meeting. Yet they also worried more outdoor practice time, combined with the development’s new sound systems, would bring disruptive noise into the neighborhood surrounding Pickard Field.

Resident Eddie Kingman questioned the accuracy of a sound study performed by Cavanaugh Tocci, which used computer modeling to show the use of Bowdoin’s new facilities would not violate local noise ordinances. He said his own personal testing, conducted with an iPhone app, showed Pickard Field already regularly produced sound levels prohibited by town code, even though the complex currently has only one sound system, rather than the proposed four.


“I think that every Bowdoin professor in the audience here today would tell you that computer modeling is great, but empirical evidence is better,” Kingman said. “I don’t have superhuman hearing, so I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that that music exceeded the 55 [decibels] allowed for daytime noise.”

Kingman and other residents pushed the board to require an independent sound study before allowing Bowdoin to build its proposed sound systems.

Yet the board members demurred, noting they were more comfortable with the science behind the sound study than the PFAS analysis.

“I was pretty well-satisfied with the study that was included in the proposal,” board member Alison Harris said. “The town has recourse that is not as devastating as digging up a bunch of turf playing fields if in fact there’s a problem.”

Bowdoin will also need a permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection before it can begin work on the project, which it hopes to begin next spring and finish in time for its spring 2024 sports season.

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