The $53.5 million bond on the June ballot in Cumberland and North Yarmouth would pay for a new school on the Greely campus, other new buildings and upgrades and a $3 million artificial turf field. Image courtesy of SAD 51

The fate of a new SAD 51 pre-K and Grade 1 school on the Greely campus could hinge on voters’ support for a $3 million artificial turf athletic field that is part of the package.

Cumberland and North Yarmouth residents will vote June 11 on borrowing $53.5 million to fund the construction of the new school, the turf field and other enhancements and upgrades to the Greely campus, a package collectively known as the “One Campus School Project.” Under the proposed financing, the bond would be paid off over 30 years.

While school officials and other supporters say the $53.5 million bond – turf field included – is a wise investment, other voters have said that the turf field that would replace Hutchins Field is an unnecessary expense on top of an already expensive project. In addition to cost, some detractors say the new school and the turf field should be voted on separately and others argue that the turf field poses health threats.

The proposal comes nearly two years after residents rejected a $73.9 million school bond to fund a new pre-K through Grade 2 school in North Yarmouth. Opponents at the time largely cited the impact on property taxes, especially for lower-income residents.

A rendering of the pre-K and Grade 1 school proposed for the Greely campus in Cumberland. Image courtesy of SAD 51

Since then, school leadership has worked to come up with a proposal that is more palatable to voters – though school board Vice Chair Kim Vine noted to The Forecaster that the quest to put a big SAD 51 upgrade before voters goes back to at least 2019.

This time around, a North Yarmouth resident whose property is assessed by the town at $350,000, the example the school department provided, can expect to pay an additional $1,556 in taxes over the first five years of the bond, which comes out to $26 a month. A Cumberland resident whose home is assessed at that same value would pay $1,701 over five years, or $28 a month, according to the school department. After the first five years, their contribution would decrease, though school leadership hasn’t released an exact breakdown for the rest of the 30 years.


In addition to the new school and turf field, the project on the ballot includes four classrooms at Mabel I. Wilson School, along with other renovations there, a new maintenance facility, the addition of new athletic and play spaces, and an investment in traffic and parking design.

Current school buildings on the Greely campus do not have enough capacity for all enrollees, and many students are now being instructed in 29 modular classrooms. SAD 51 also relies on three on-site fields for athletics, but must frequently have practices elsewhere because of capacity constraints and the impact of bad weather on grass fields.

SAD 51 leadership has pitched the One Campus School Project as a solution to both these problems and as a way to account for any needed future expansion.


Voter pushback has largely centered on the inclusion of the new turf field.

“I’m a retired person, my budget’s a lot tighter than it used to be. I look at the expense of a field like that (and think) ‘Good god, can’t we just maintain the regular grass field?'” said Diane Burnell, a North Yarmouth resident who told The Forecaster last week that she is leaning toward voting against bond approval.

She’s irritated, she said, that the new turf field got lumped in with the school changes, and wished school leadership had tried to pass the project without tacking on the turf field as an additional expense.


During a public comment period at a school board meeting last month, other residents echoed Burnell’s stance.

“This turf proposal and the school should be separate referendums. I personally am going to vote ‘no’ on the turf. And if it’s part of the school thing, I will be voting ‘no’ on that when I am really in favor of the school,” said Cumberland resident Bruce Sherwin.

“The reason why I’m here is this proposal on the new elementary school … and the turf. I’m disturbed that those two are linked. They are separate issues,” Glenn Morazzini of Cumberland told the board.

He also objects to the artificial turf on environmental grounds, pointing to concerns about PFAS, or what are known as “forever chemicals.” Testing of artificial turf material has revealed detectable amounts of PFAS.

At a school board meeting in March, Cumberland resident Stephanie Durrant said that she was also concerned about the potential for chemical exposure if the school moves forward with the artificial turf.

“I am not here to say we should not do this. I am here to say we should look closer,” Durrant said.


“Folks it’s saddens me to say this but vote no on new school!! The turf field is a want not a need!! It’s time to send a message to the school board they can’t ignore! Vote the whole thing down!!!” wrote Jason Copp in the Cumberland & North Yarmouth Residents Facebook page in mid March.

Jeffrey DiBartolomeo, a candidate for school board running to represent Cumberland, also has indicated he’s not on board with the inclusion of the turf field. “If we could have proposed a $50 million school to begin with, why not propose a $50 million school to begin with?” he said, referencing what the bond total would have been without the turf field included.


Vine, the school board vice chair, believes those speaking out against the turf field are a small but vocal contingent of voters.

She said that ahead of a school board vote in March, where members decided 7-1 to move forward with the referendum question that included the turf field, she went back through emails sent to the board and found a nearly 3-1 ratio of voters advocating for the inclusion of the turf field compared to those asking to have it removed.

“I wanted to feel secure if I was going to vote to keep the turf field in the bonds,” she said.


School board member Timothy Valenti cast the sole vote against it, though he said he was in favor of the new school project. He noted before the vote that he was worried lumping the turf field in with the larger project would make the ballot question a referendum on the turf field. Another board member, Denny Gallaudet, abstained.

When asked about the thinking behind including the turf field in the overall proposal, Vine said that when school leadership took a step back and looked at all the needed school improvements – alongside the lower cost of the $53.5 million proposal compared to the 2022 proposal – “it just made sense.”

“Rather than thinking, ‘how can we plop down a new school?’ instead, it was ‘how can we fix our campus once and for all?’” she recalled.

Vine is not alone in thinking that including the turf field in the new school proposal makes sense.

Jesse Lamarre-Vincent, another school board candidate running to represent Cumberland, said at a recent candidate forum that he is “in full support” of the proposal. While skeptical about the turf field at first, he said he was convinced by the materials that the school board put out online. He also said he came away convinced that the field is good value for money.

School board candidate Suzannah Dowling, who is running to represent North Yarmouth, said that she is also fully on board with the One Campus School Project.


SAD 51 Athletic Director David Shapiro is a big supporter.

“We’re beholden to Mother Nature. There are many times where our kids are not as active as they could and should be because the facility is not available for us to play on,” Shapiro said during a May 1 informational session on the turf field. Hutchins Field can be used about 170 hours per year, while a turf field could be used nearly year-round, according to the school department.

On the issue of harmful chemicals in artificial turf and other potential hazards, school leadership has countered that after doing research, they feel secure in moving forward with turf over grass.

“After many consults the board found that the risk of an athlete being injured on an artificial turf field is comparable to that of a grass field, and that the environmental issues with the older generations of artificial turf (such as the use of ground rubber tires) have been addressed in the newer generations,” Vine wrote in a follow-up email to The Forecaster.

“The EPA has done multiple studies on turf fields after the concerns were raised about cancer-causing agents in turf fields. The bottom line is that there is more study and work to be done,” said Dr. Bradford Wagner, a sports medicine physician who was invited by the board to give his professional opinion during that same May 1 session.

“But in general, it’s not thought of as a large health risk factor at this time,” he said.



And then there is one segment of the North Yarmouth and Cumberland community that is almost uniformly on board with the new turf field, though they won’t be on the hook to pay for it. Ninety-four percent of student athletes responding to a recent survey were in favor of the turf field, according to Shapiro.

Jude Cook, a Greely High School junior from North Yarmouth who plays on the lacrosse team spoke at a March 18 school board meeting about how lack of adequate practice space is an inconvenience, and even puts him and his fellow athletes in dangerous situations.

Cook said that in the early season he has to drive over 20 minutes to the Maine Athletic Complex in Portland for practices that start at 9 p.m. On those practice nights, that means he won’t be in bed until 11:30, putting a strain on his academic performance.

“It’s also very dangerous for a bunch of new drivers – 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kids – to be driving on highways … very late (at night),” he said.

Other student athletes spoke at the March 18 school board meeting, arguing that a lack of turf puts their teams at a competitive disadvantage, presents challenges for recording their games and practices to submit to colleges, and that playing on turf is just a better experience.

“I can say that lacrosse on turf is just the best,” said Fin McLean, a Greely High School senior from Cumberland.

“It’s the best way to play it.”

The SAD 51 campus master plan. Contributed / SAD 51

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