OAKLAND — A 15-year push to get a districtwide track and field installed at Messalonskee High School is now inching across the starting line.

The school board of Regional School Unit 18, which includes Messalonskee, voted Wednesday to accept gifts of service from companies to survey the area, a preliminary step necessary to get a cost estimate, said Lisa Burton, president of the Messalonskee All Sports Boosters Board.

A 12-person subcommittee of the board is working on the track and field project. The Maine companies — which Burton said did not want to be identified as offering the donated services — will sample the soil, conduct wetland studies and do topographical mapping in the area of the current track at the high school, which is now called the “dirt oval,” Burton said.

Superintendent Gary Smith stressed that this donated survey work is a preliminary step and that nothing else has been approved so far.

“People have been trying to move this forward for years,” Smith said. “A major stumbling block is securing funding for a project like this.”

Burton said this work is necessary for construction companies to prepare cost estimates of what a track and field project would cost. It’s a key step that lays the groundwork for improvements there, she said.

“The track right now is not really a track at all,” Burton said. “No one that I’ve talked to … can remember when it was actually a functioning track.”

The high school is the only Class A school in the state with a track and field program but no real track, Burton said. What’s used as a track at the school, she said, is overgrown with weeds over the dirt and gravel, is suitable only for practice and can pose a safety hazard.

When it rains, “essentially they run on mud, so it’s very slippery and unsafe,” she said.

The track team also has to measure out the different race distances every day at practice.

Burton also said improving the track and field would be beneficial to everyone and make the area a “healthier” community.

“Everybody in the community … would have a safe facility to run and walk that we don’t have right now,” she said, adding that a new turf field also would give the school more opportunities to host athletic events and sell tickets.

Two years ago, the Oakland school received a grant from the University of Maine that allowed graduate students to do a feasibility study and design of what it would take to put a track and field at Messalonskee, as part of their capstone project. The “very rough” cost estimate was $3 million to $4 million, Burton said.

Now the committee is using the gift of services to confirm the graduate students’ findings.

“It was definitely something that has been talked about for a very long time, and … with school budget cycles, it’s never really been a project that the school’s been able to take on,” Burton said. “It was really the grant that allowed us to start thinking about this in a real way.”

The committee is hoping the project will continue to move forward once the studies are completed. The studies will determine if any significant engineering would have to be done, which would affect the cost.

Burton said the site work should be done in the next two weeks. The committee hopes to present a cost estimate to the school board in February or March, depending on when it receives the site work report.

Funding for the project will depend on the cost estimate, she said, and on whether anyone in the community is willing to help the project get started with a donation. She said it probably wouldn’t be added to the school budget but instead would be a separate project.

Burton said construction took 18 months once ground was broken at a school that did a similar project.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

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Twitter: @madelinestamour