Snow covers the baseball field at Memorial Field in Skowhegan in April 2023. In the background is the Margaret Chase Smith School and nearby are a softball field and tennis courts. The Memorial Field complex in Skowhegan has been taken over by the construction of a new elementary school, which broke ground last year. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

SKOWHEGAN — Skowhegan Area High School’s baseball and tennis teams are set to begin their spring season without their usual home field and courts.

The teams will still play this year — at other facilities in Waterville, Madison, and Smithfield — but their longtime home at the Memorial Field complex in Skowhegan has been taken over by the construction of a new elementary school, which broke ground last year.

New facilities at the Skowhegan Community Center to replace the complex were once hoped to be completed this spring, town officials said last March.

But before it can move forward with the project, the town is stuck waiting for a slow-moving, required federal approval process due to its sale of the Memorial Field complex to School Administrative District 54. Until that process is finalized, there is no estimated completion date, according to Denise LeBlanc, Skowhegan’s director of parks and recreation.

That has some residents concerned that it could be years until the local sports teams have a permanent home in town again.

“Our biggest frustration is that this was decided back in 2021,” said Garrett Quinn, a Skowhegan resident who grew up playing baseball in town and later coached collegiate baseball for 18 years. “And here we are in 2024, and as of this date, we still don’t have a design of what the new complex is going to look like (and) they haven’t gone out to bid on a new concept.”


Construction of the Margaret Chase Smith Community School is shown at 40 Heselton St. in Skowhegan on Jan. 18. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

Quinn and several other residents have turned out to dozens of meetings in recent months, bringing their concerns to Skowhegan’s Board of Selectmen and Recreation Advisory Committee, as well as the SAD 54 board of directors. They say they worry that the town isn’t making the new athletic complex a priority and that the school district isn’t coordinating with the town.

Town and school district officials say that’s not the case.


LeBlanc, the parks and recreation director, said Tuesday that the new field area is “top priority.”

Even so, LeBlanc said she cannot do anything to speed up a required approval process from the National Park Service that has recently come to a standstill.

“I don’t like it,” LeBlanc said. “But it’s just the process we have to follow.”


That approval process seemed to be going well until recently, LeBlanc said. But LeBlanc said she learned last week that staffing shortages at the National Park Service meant there was nobody working in the relevant office to process the town’s application.

She hopes to hear in the next few weeks if the National Park Service will allow her to continue working on the project while it finalizes the conversion.

The town has been undertaking what is known as a conversion for the Memorial Field site off of Heselton Street because it had received federal grants dating back to the 1970s from the National Park Service’s Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The grants require that the land be used for recreational purposes. If the land use changes, the town is required to provide the same amount of recreational opportunity at a new site through a so-called conversion.

An architectural rendering of the $75 million consolidated elementary school planned for Skowhegan. It is scheduled to open for the 2025-26 school year. Image courtesy of Stephen Blatt Architects

In 2020, when SAD 54 decided it needed to acquire Memorial Field to build the new Margaret Chase Smith Community School on Heselton Street, district officials learned that the town would need to take on that Land and Water Conservation Fund conversion process, Superintendent Jon Moody said in a recent interview.

The town already had a site that could be used for the conversion, LeBlanc said. Since 2006, the town has been working on an overall plan to renovate and expand the Skowhegan Community Center facilities at 39 Poulin Drive.


Plans for the community complex include expanded parking, a maintenance garage, a concession stand, and new dugouts for the Little League fields, in addition to the fields and tennis courts. Some of those projects, since they are not part of the LWCF conversion and are fully funded, have begun in recent years.

The LWCF conversion technically does not require the site — in this case, the community center — to provide the same kind of recreational facilities, Moody said. Rather, it has to provide at least the same land area and recreational opportunities.

But the town decided to change its original 2006 plan for the layout to include a baseball field and tennis courts at the community center after the sale of Memorial Field, LeBlanc said.

Skowhegan selectmen approved a “Park Relocation Agreement” with the district in April 2021, Moody said. State education officials also agreed that the conversion was a viable option, and the district received $1.9 million in state funding to acquire the Memorial Field complex, which was sent to the town last spring, according to Moody.

“It seemed like a win-win,” Moody said.

The district would be able to build the new school at its preferred site and the town would use the $1.9 million toward new athletic facilities at the community center.



Even so, some residents have expressed concerns that the school district has not been coordinating enough with the town of Skowhegan.

Approximately 30 residents came to the last SAD 54 board of directors meeting on March 21 to voice their opinions. One member of the public was escorted out during the heated discussion.

“I think they’re just angry,” Moody said. “The only way to fix that is that we have to be more transparent.”

Moody said the district has intended to be transparent throughout the process. Ahead of the June 2022 district budget referendum that gave the final affirmation of the Heselton Street site for the Margaret Chase Smith Community School, the district made the plans to replace the Memorial Field complex clear in materials sent to all voters in SAD 54’s six towns of Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield, Moody said.

Some residents have taken aim at SAD 54’s construction of its tennis courts at the high school — just steps from the Skowhegan Community Center — as evidence of the lack of coordination.


But Moody said the district had the opportunity to use a state revolving fund and federal COVID-19-related funds to build the tennis courts. He asked then-Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand if it would make sense for the district to build tennis courts.

The town said yes, according to Moody.

The district chose to build its own tennis courts instead of its own baseball field because there is already a baseball field between the middle school and Bloomfield Elementary School, which is next to the high school, Moody said. That field can’t be used for high school games, Moody said, but it can be used for classes and practices.

“My phys ed programs at any of the three schools, they can use a baseball field right there,” Moody said. “But we never had tennis courts. So, it made sense to put tennis courts on site.”

Moody said, though, that a baseball field could fit at the high school’s campus.


“If the town is not able to build a baseball field and they want to give us the money to build a baseball field, we’ll gladly explore building a baseball field as quickly as possible,” Moody said. “But we’re not going to pay for a baseball field from the taxpayers when the town of Skowhegan is going to build one. That doesn’t make sense.”


Money is still a big question for the town’s project.

Once the LWCF site conversion is approved, the town can go out to bid for a contractor for the community center athletic complex, LeBlanc said. Only then will the town know the final price tag, she said.

Now, the town has the $1.9 million from selling the Memorial Field complex to SAD 54 and a $200,000 donation from New Balance dedicated toward the fields and courts at the community center.

Congressionally Directed Spending of $3 million for the community center complex project was also approved earlier this year, LeBlanc said. But there’s a catch: The earmark is for tennis courts, pickleball courts, and turf fields.


Selectmen approved plans last fall for a grass baseball field and turf multipurpose field for the complex, so LeBlanc isn’t sure yet that any of that $3 million could go toward the baseball field.

LeBlanc said she can’t say now if the approximately $2 million in the bank already will cover the first phase of the community center complex, which includes just the baseball field, parking, and other required infrastructure.

Funding from other sources — which could be private or public — may be necessary, LeBlanc and some selectmen have said recently.

“Yes, I can go after private funding,” LeBlanc said at Tuesday’s meeting of the Skowhegan Recreation Advisory Committee. “But I don’t have any of that information yet.”

Selectman Paul York, who also sits on the committee, said at Tuesday’s meeting that he is confident the town is committed to figuring out how to get the project done.

“The bottom line is we need a field,” York said. “And we need to make that happen.”

And Quinn, the resident who has been voicing his opinion on the matter at public meetings for over a year, said he has since seen the town move in the right direction.

“There are some very positive things that have happened that people deserve some credit for,” Quinn said. “We just wish this could have happened in 2022 rather than 2024. But better late than never.”

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