Snow covers the baseball diamond last week at Memorial Field in Skowhegan. A softball field and tennis courts also are part of the complex, which is adjacent to the Margaret Chase Smith School. Officials are working to relocate the fields and courts to the Skowhegan Community Center in the next couple of years. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN — Town officials acknowledged this week that some high school athletic teams may be without home court advantage for two or three years as officials work to develop a new athletic complex adjacent to the town’s community center.

“The bottom line is that there’s probably going to be baseball players and tennis players and soccer players … without a field this time next year,” Select Board Vice Chairman Charles Robbins said during a meeting Monday. “That’s probably the harsh reality.”

The meeting was held to update residents on an ongoing project to expand the Skowhegan Community Center at 39 Poulin Drive, near the town’s high school and middle school. Those plans include adding fields and courts on which high school teams could play, which has taken on greater urgency in light of construction that’s scheduled to begin this summer on a $75 million consolidated elementary school.

The school will overtake Memorial Field off Heselton Street so that means the teams that play there — the high school baseball team, the high school tennis teams, and some rec and youth leagues — have to find new accommodations come spring 2024. Town officials at one point were hopeful that new fields adjacent to the community center would be available by then, but that appears increasingly unlikely.

Memorial Field is home to all three tennis courts in town and two of three baseball fields.

A baseball dugout is shown at Memorial Field in Skowhegan on Thursday. The complex, next to the Margaret Chase Smith School, also features a softball field and tennis courts. Officials are working to relocate the fields and courts to the Skowhegan Community Center in the next couple of years. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Skowhegan’s director of parks and recreation, Denise LeBlanc, said it’s still possible the $4.5 million effort to create new fields at the community center could be completed by next spring, although the town has no finalized design concept and is facing a funding shortfall of $1.7 million.

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The town issued a request for proposals for the project last week and will convene the town’s parks and recreation advisory committee to finalize a design with public input before opening for bid April 28, officials said.

“The issue for years has been funding. I’ve been doing grants as much as I can and going after private funding … and it is what it is,” LeBlanc said Monday.

Most of the funding for new fields has come in since February. The town received $1.9 million selling the Memorial Field complex to School Administrative District 54 to build the elementary school. LeBlanc said the town has access to a little over $700,000 in reserve accounts, and recently New Balance awarded the parks and rec department $200,000 for the project.

LeBlanc is seeking federal funding to cover the rest of the cost but won’t hear back on that grant proposal until the fall.

“It’s finding the source of money now, that’s what we’re up to,” Selectman Steve Govoni said. “But time here is certainly not our friend.”

Residents came to the meeting Monday to express concern that the town sold Memorial Field without an alternative lined up, and that the project will take far longer than officials are projecting.

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Andrew Staples, who has coached the varsity girls tennis team at Skowhegan Area High School for 16 years, said he’s discouraged by the lack of input from people who lead sports teams and leagues.

“If we don’t do it right this time, we’ll be stuck with it for decades,” Staples said.

Staples would have asked the town to add more than three tennis courts by the community center. A minimum of four, he said, are required to run a “meaningful program” at the high school while accommodating the public, too.

The varsity baseball coach, Mike LeBlanc, is still “keeping his fingers crossed” that if a bid is accepted for the project this spring, contractors could lay down a turf baseball field this fall.

The coach expressed disappointment in an email to the Morning Sentinel on Tuesday that the town has been unable to complete the project “in a more timely manner,” and said the school’s athletic director is coming up with a backup plan for the spring 2024 season.

“The way things are going now, it’s going to be years,” resident Garrett Quinn said at Monday’s meeting.

Quinn, who has coached baseball at the collegiate level, said the town has not yet decided between a turf or grass surface for the fields. If the town goes for real grass rather than turf, Quinn said it’ll take at least another year to complete the project, and will require reapplying for permits.

Denise LeBlanc promised to spend Tuesday putting together the costs of a grass field, and put that information to the parks and rec advisory committee in order to finalize design concepts.

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