AUGUSTA — Replacing what’s left of the muddy grass field of Cony High School’s Alumni Field with artificial turf is expected to cost about $800,000.

But, it would result in far more student-athletes being able to practice and play outside for much longer periods of time, both in the fall and spring.

Efforts are underway now to raise funds to bring artificial turf to Alumni Field, as part of $1.2 million worth of improvements proposed for the athletic complex.

Muddy conditions at the field, exacerbated by an increasing amount of rain falling in central Maine in recent years, prevented the Cony lacrosse team from having any home games during the recently completed season. It shut down the field for nearly any use this spring and, last year, prevented the football team from being able to host a home playoff game, despite having earned the right to do so with its 7-1 record. That game was moved to Lewiston, on artificial turf.

The football and lacrosse teams at the high school have been the primary users of the field. But advocates for installing artificial turf said doing so would dramatically increase the amount of use Alumni Field could accommodate. It could boost the number of hours it is likely to be used from between 300 and 350 hours a year up to more than 1,000 hours annually.

“Every single team we have, outdoor-wise, will use that turf,” Paul Vachon, retiring Cony Athletic Director and former longtime coach, told city councilors while discussing the proposal Thursday. “It’s time. It’s time for the community to rally and get behind this. It’s going to do wonders for the kids and our whole community will be using this. It will draw people here.”

Vachon also said games that are now cancelled due to rain could still be played on an artificial turf field, preventing cancellations that impact the schedules of student-athletes and their families.

The potential to have more student athletes be able to use the field, for far more hours than they can use the existing one, prompted what Leif Dahlin, director of community services for the city, said will likely be the theme for a planned fundraising campaign for it: “Many teams, one dream.”

This photo, taken Friday, shows Cony High School’s Alumni Field in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Ward 4 City Council Eric Lind, chairman of an ad hoc committee working on the project, said the cost won’t be passed on to taxpayers. It will, he said, rely on some funds already set aside for work at Alumni Field, grants funds organizers hope to win, and funds that will be raised from donors large and small.

“We’ve got some community leaders we’re going to meet with and, obviously, we’ll look for some big donations,” Lind said. “We think people are going to want to donate to it. Every donation matters.”

Thursday night city councilors approved the use of about $400,000 from three different accounts to move the project along. The biggest piece of that, $253,000, will come from a trust fund set up for the late Augusta philanthropist Elsie Viles and dedicated to Alumni Field improvements.

About $140,000 was re-appropriated to the project from funds leftover from the 2006 construction of a new Cony High School. And $5,600 was moved to the project from money that would have otherwise funded the purchase of athletic equipment.

Organizers hope to garner between $200,000 and $300,000 in grant funding, which would leave about $600,000 to be raised from donors.

“This will be a true showcase of community pride and we look forward to the group effort,” said Mayor David Rollins, himself a former Cony student-athlete. “We can’t get there with just grants. We’ll need private donations. This is going to be another collaboration between people donating and municipal support and grant contributions. A town our size, that’s how we have to get things done.”

Dahlin said the goal is to cut the ribbon to open the field to use in August 2020.

He said artificial turf, as recently as a decade ago, was generally considered something exotic for a high school athletic complex but is increasingly becoming “the standard.” Maine schools with artificial turf include Lewiston High School, Messalonskee High School, the private Kents Hill School, and Morse High School in Bath.

He said Morse student-athletes were able to use the artificial turf field there this spring starting March 25, while Cony student-athletes couldn’t get onto outdoor fields until May, and were confined to indoor training for their outdoor sports.

“Think about the softball, baseball, track teams that had to stay inside, they were throwing softballs off the bleachers,” Dahlin said. “Those young folks will get the benefits because they’ll be outside in the spring instead.”

The ad hoc committee’s report, acknowledging past reports that artificial turf could be a factor in more injuries to athletes, states: “The review of literature suggests the jury is still out as to health issues and concerns related to the use and play on artificial turf. The committee will do more research to adequately address this detail.”

Dahlin and Lind said recent years have brought a significant increase in the amount of rain. Dahlin said regardless of whether it is caused by humans or other factors, the climate is changing and the last couple of years have brought “rain, rain and rain.”

Another factor in the field becoming unusable, Dahlin said, has been a grub infestation in the city.

John Millett, who will soon take over the job of Cony athletic director from Vachon, said he supports the project and hopes others will, too.

Dahlin said an analysis of projected operating costs for an artificial turf field compared to the current grass field indicate that, over 10 years, it would cost $402,000 to maintain an artificial turf field, or $379,000 to maintain a natural grass turf field.

But in that same 10-year time period, according to the analysis, the artificial turf field would see about 10,000 hours of use, some 6,500 hours more than a natural grass field.

Dahlin said an artificial turf would be expected to last about 12 years before needing replacement.

In addition to the planned artificial turf, other improvements include relocating the shot put, discuss and javelin throwing areas, some paving, building upgrades and electrical work.


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