This June 7, 2019, photo shows Cony High School’s Alumni Field in Augusta. A project to renovate the field has now met its funding goal and work could begin within a couple months. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — With the coronavirus pandemic making fundraising for improvements at Cony High School’s Alumni Field unlikely anytime soon, a donor who had already agreed to pay for part of the project has increased his offer.

Robert G. Fuller Jr., a former Winthrop resident who now lives in Maryland, previously offered of a $500,000 donation, if it was matched with other donations. Fuller, whose family tree includes multiple prominent Augusta residents, has agreed to increase that donation to $1.64 million.

Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo said the donation, combined with previously raised and dedicated funding, should be enough to pay for the projected $2.3 million project at Alumni Field, which will be renamed Fuller Field.

Without the donation, he said, the project probably wouldn’t happen, at least not for a long time.

“Between the financial stresses of the city, because of the pandemic, and other pressing concerns, I think we’d all given up on being able to do this in the foreseeable future,” Bridgeo said. “That’s part of the wonderfulness of this. As far as quality of life aspirations, this is way up there on the list. That’s why we’re so excited about it.”

 

In addition to the coronavirus pandemic impacting the ability to fundraise for the project, bids for the work came in around $2.3 million — much higher than the $1.5 million officials were projecting. That prompted the project to be put on hold.

But two weeks ago, Bridgeo said, Fuller called him to say he wanted to increase his donation and remove the matching stipulation in place with the initial offer.

“It’s hard for us to express our depth of gratitude to Bob for what he has done for and continues to do for our city,” Mayor David Rollins said in a news release. “Bob appreciates that youth athletics are a vital element in the development of our children. Ensuring that they have facilities that encourage that growth and that they can be proud of is about as good a gift as someone can make.”

Fuller declined to comment other than a statement he provided for a city news release. In that statement, he said he was motivated to make the gift because of his belief that when a high school has a continuing history of athletic success, it fosters a sense of community pride. In turn, he said, it makes it easier to attract people, such as doctors, teachers, artists and entrepreneurs, who’ll add value and choose to remain there.

“Not only because Augusta has the superior facilities and services they demand but it’s also where a visitor can detect that its citizens are upbeat and enjoy living where they are,” Fuller said in his statement. “You can’t have successful teams these days without the infrastructure you need to support them. So I don’t think of my action as simply a gift but rather as an investment in Augusta’s future.”

Part of the previous agreement with Fuller regarding his donation specified the athletic complex will be renamed Fuller Field.

Bridgeo said city councilors, at the time the proposal went to them for review in 2019, indicated a desire to acknowledge Fuller’s generosity by renaming the field for him.

Bridgeo said Fuller and his wife, Moira, have a long history of contributing to numerous causes in Augusta including MaineGeneral Medical Center, Kennebec Valley YMCA, Lithgow Public Library and Kennebec Historical Society, and naming the field Fuller Field seeks to recognize those other contributions to the community, not just to the athletic complex.

Fuller also funded the installation of statutes of Judge Daniel Cony at Cony High School and Melville Weston Fuller outside the Kennebec County Courthouse, both of whom are Fuller’s ancestors.

The Melville Fuller statue has since stirred controversy because Melville Fuller, when he was chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, presided over the court that decided Plessy v. Ferguson, which institutionalized the “separate but equal” doctrine and racial discrimination in the United States for several decades.

Advocates for the athletic complex renovations said replacing the grass field there now with artificial turf will allow the field to be used much more often, because it won’t become muddy and unusable as the current field has in the recent past.

Other work planned there includes moving some track and field event areas, such as the shot put, discus and javelin throwing areas away from the football field and onto a location now occupied by old tennis courts.

Taylor Harmon Track, which surrounds the football field, will be kept in place and will continue to be named for late beloved track coach Taylor Harmon.

The other funds for the project have already been dedicated to it and include $400,000 from city accounts city councilors approved for the project in June of 2019: $253,000 donated from a trust fund set up for the late Augusta philanthropist Elsie Viles, for Alumni Field improvements, and $140,000 in funds reappropriated to the project from funds leftover from the 2006 construction of a new Cony High School. Also, about $280,000 was raised by Bob Moore through Cony All Sports Boosters to help fund the project.

Bridgeo said Fuller’s donation will allow the project to proceed immediately. He said the funds are already in the process of being transferred and work is underway getting it ready to go back out to bid, which could happen within two months.

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