OAKLAND — Members of Messalonskee High School’s track and field team were particularly excited Wednesday afternoon. They are quickly adjusting to a new routine: practicing the sport on their own campus.

Messalonskee High School’s new athletic complex with new field, track and bleachers is lit up with new lights at the Oakland school, seen in this drone photo taken Nov. 15, 2018. The eight-lane track replaces the “dirt oval.” Morning Sentinel file photo by David Leaming

“It’s a whole new world,” said Alexa Brennan, a 17-year-old distance runner from Belgrade, after a brief warm-up jog on the school’s recently installed rubberized track. Previously, the team practiced at other local high schools and colleges or on a “dirt oval” where a new Messalonskee track now resides.

“This is my sixth season of track,” Brennan said. “After all those years, this is well-deserved. Our distance program is really strong, we’ve been working hard, and this will allow us to maximize our (performances) to our full potential.”

The $3.9 million athletic facility, which includes an artificial turf field, an eight-lane track, lights, a scoreboard and an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant grandstand, will open formally to the public Friday afternoon. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 5:45 p.m., with sports activities for children starting earlier, at 4:30 p.m. Then, at 6 p.m., the boys varsity lacrosse team will christen the field in a game against Camden Hills Regional High School, with the girls varsity lacrosse team playing Winslow High School at 8. Athletic Director Chad Foye said the games are still on as of Thursday afternoon.

So far, the lacrosse teams had gotten on the turf no more than a couple of times before an April storm dropped a blanket of snow on the ground. The rubberized track thawed out more quickly.

Messalonskee High School track coach Tracey Frost said his student athletes are “really, really jazzed” about having their first home meet since the 1980s. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“We’re using it every opportunity we get and — wow,” said assistant track and field coach Tracey Frost, who is also the school resource officer. “The ice kind of came off of it a week ago Friday, and we were so anxious to get on it that at one point in time it was just the back corner that was ice-free, and we went to use it. When the kids came off that, everybody was just smiling. It was just awesome.”

Superintendent Carl Gartley said there is still “a little bit” of work to be done on the facility this summer. The final protective layers — including an Eagles red coating — will be laid onto the existing black surface in July. Striping and distance markers were added temporarily last week and will be repainted onto the red surface.

“We need some dry, prolonged warmer weather, basically, to paint it,” Gartley said. “But it won’t change the texture.”

Frost noted that the track is “completely legal” to compete on. The first home track meet is scheduled for April 25.

Messalonskee High School track athlete Kim Spears lifts weights Wednesday in an exercise room in Oakland. Spears, who competes in shot put, javelin and discus, can do that on new track and field facilities that replace a “dirt oval.” Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“It’s our first home meet at Messalonskee since the ’80s,” Frost said. “We’re really, really jazzed.”

Though weather-related delays in the construction racked up some unanticipated costs, Gartley said the project will remain under budget. Work began on the facility in June. It was initially scheduled to open in October, but low temperature inhibited the work from being completed.

“I don’t think we’re going to have tons left over,” Gartley said, “but we are going to finish this within budget.”

Critics of the project have voiced concerns about the cost since its inception. Richard A. LaBelle, a former selectman from Rome, said long-term debt accrued from the $3.9 million complex disproportionately falls on Rome — which enrolls the fewest students at Messalonskee — and that not enough effort was made to solicit private donations.

“We continue to talk about it, but most times it feels as if it’s on deaf ears,” he told the Morning Sentinel in November.

Messalonskee High School track athletes Pyper Birch, left, and Olivia Roy work out Wednesday on exercise equipment in Oakland. Birch said that when new mats for pole vaulters came in, they opened them up and “just immediately laid on them.” Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

When the bond question was put before Regional School Unit 18 voters in Oakland, China, Sidney, Belgrade and Rome, it passed by the largest margin in Oakland, where Messalonskee High School is located. The question asked for approval for a $13.9 million bond, which also included a stipulation that $10 million would go toward facilities upgrades. The vote took place in November 2017.

Olivia Roy, a 17-year-old senior from Sidney who has competed in sprinting and throwing events, said she thinks the track will reduce the number of injuries among the 82-person track and field team.

“Before, we couldn’t run full speed because there were so many potholes. People fell and skinned their knees and twisted their ankles all the time,” she said.

Hunter Smart, 18, a long-distance runner from Oakland, added that the meter markings on the surface already have been useful for training.

“It’s been great to run on and … great for practicing. You can actually see how far you’re running,” he said.

The 10-person pole vault group is eagerly awaiting a chance to put new equipment to use. The athletes, who can practice only with a specific rig, used to travel to Lawrence High School in Fairfield or Waterville’s Colby College to vault.

“When the new mats came in, we were all freaking out,” said senior Pyper Birch, 18, of Belgrade. “We got to open them and we just immediately laid on them.”

“I think we’re going to improve with the new facility and just get better and better,” said Emma Wentworth, a 17-year-old runner from Sidney.


Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @megrobbins

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