WATERVILLE — Work is progressing on artificial baseball and softball fields at Colby College. When the fields are completed in the fall, Colby athletic director Tim Wheaton envisions a facility that will not just be an asset for the college, but for the Waterville area.

Wheaton said Colby already has talked to some groups about hosting games and events at the new fields, which will be the first artificial baseball and softball field in the New England Small College Athletic Conference.

“We’ve reached out to some. We’ve been looking at different programs to get them here. We’re being proactive. We want it to benefit Colby certainly, but the community at large, whether it’s having kids play here, or sometimes bringing in people who use it and stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. It’s great for Waterville to bring in people,” Wheaton said.

Work began in late May on the two fields, and is expected to continue into the fall. Along with the artificial surface, each field will have lights. An indoor batting cage will sit between the two fields. Colby will join the University of Maine and Husson University as the only colleges in the state to have artificial fields for baseball or softball.

“I’m very excited,” Colby baseball coach Dale Plummer said. “In years past, we’ve had to switch home games to road games, because our field was unplayable.”

Colby is in the process of hiring a softball coach, but whomever takes over the program will be coaching the Mules on a brand-new field. While the new baseball field is being built over what was the team’s home, Coombs Field, the softball field is being built on adjacent land that once housed the school’s observatory and music shell. The new softball field replaces the one tucked behind the Harold Alfond Athletic Center. The Collins Observatory is moving across campus to Runnals Hill.

The project is the result of discussion between Wheaton and Colby President David A. Greene. They asked the question, what can be done to improve the school that will have a positive impact on Colby and the community, Wheaton said.

“Baseball and softball in New England is a challenge. Some alumns and parents really wanted to support it, and we felt, what could we do to help our programs be as competitive as possible? It kind of grew from there,” Wheaton said.

Approximately $2.5 million has been commited by alumni, parents and friends of Colby baseball and softball. Wheaton estimated the project will cost $6.8 million.

“We felt, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right and make it really usable. Not only for the teams, but for events we could run there. The pavilion that’s going to have batting cages is also designed so it can be used for events associated with games,” Wheaton.

“We can get in there and swing it as long as it’s not too cold,” Plummer said. “We should be able to get outside a little even before our trip south.”

With lights, the teams will be able to practice at night, making it less likely athletes will miss practice time for classes. The outfield of the baseball field will be equiped with a cushion layer underneather the turf, allowing for soccer and lacrosse. Lights also mean the Mules will be able to begin midweek doubleheaders later in the day, Plummer said, which also will help avoid conflicts with classes.

“When you do something that big, you want to make it as usable as possible, and functional in many different ways,” Wheaton said.

It’s yet to be determined if the baseball field will retain the Coombs Field name. The previous field was named in honor of Colby alumn Jack Coombs, who played in the Major Leagues for the Philadelphia Athletics, Brooklyn Robbins, and Detroit Tigers before becoming the baseball coach at Duke.

“Naming stuff is up in the air right now. We certainly have some naming opportunities that are happening in terms of pieces of it, and still making determinations about what it’s going to be called,” Wheaton said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM