The Memorial Field complex in Skowhegan, above, has been taken over by the construction of a new elementary school, which broke ground last year. A new athletic complex is being planned for the community center, including a turf field for the Skowhegan Area High School baseball team, with selectmen set to put the project out to bid next month. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

SKOWHEGAN — The Skowhegan Board of Selectmen changed the planned surface of a new baseball field from grass to artificial turf, which officials said will help move forward a project that some say is not moving fast enough.

At the same time, however, the board voted Tuesday to hold off on sending the proposed community center athletic complex — where the baseball field would be — out to bid for at least another month.

Plans for the athletic complex, an expansion of the existing Skowhegan Community Center at 39 Poulin Drive, were first developed in 2006. They include a baseball field, a multipurpose turf field, and tennis and pickleball courts. Other parts of the facility, including a maintenance garage, a concession stand, and new Little League field dugouts, have already been sent out to bid.

The town had been waiting to send the athletic complex portion of the project out to bid as it waited for a federal approval process through the National Park Service known as a “conversion.”

That approval is required because the town sold the Memorial Field complex on Heselton Street to School Administrative District 54 for the district’s construction of a new, consolidated elementary school. The land sold was required to be used for recreational purposes as a condition of the federal grants the town had received to build recreational facilities, so the town intends to use the community center site as a replacement.

Denise LeBlanc, Skowhegan’s director of parks and recreation, told selectmen that she received confirmation this week that the town can go out to bid for construction while the park service processes the conversion application.


But selectmen ultimately tabled that decision until a scheduled May 28 meeting. Two of five board members were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

The board agreed to wait until a clerk of works — essentially a contracted project manager — is hired for the project before sending out information and design specifications to contractors. The period to submit bids for the clerk of works contract closes Friday.

The decision to change the surface of the baseball field from grass to artificial turf came after that vote, as selectmen considered the urgency of moving the project forward.

Skowhegan’s baseball and tennis teams are playing this spring without home facilities in town, since their previous home was at the now-sold Memorial Field complex. Some residents have recently criticized both the town and SAD 54 for creating that situation.

In a separate project, SAD 54 is building new tennis courts at Skowhegan Area High School, so town officials have said they are focusing on the baseball field as a priority.

Chairman Todd Smith said Tuesday that switching the baseball field to artificial turf was necessary because millions in funding secured for the project cannot be used for a grass field.


“If we want to move this project along quickly, with the money that we’ve now since received, we could do so if we change that grass field to a turf field,” said Smith, who voted for grass in November.

Skowhegan was awarded $3 million in Congressionally Directed Spending earlier this year, earmarked specifically for artificial turf fields, as well as tennis and pickleball courts.

The town also has $1.9 million from selling the Memorial Field complex and a $200,000 donation from New Balance. It is too soon to know if that $2.1 million alone would be enough to build the baseball field portion of the athletic complex, LeBlanc said earlier this month.

But if the town switched to an artificial turf baseball field, allowing it to use the $3 million in congressional funding expected to be sent to the town later this year, it would likely have enough to start construction, LeBlanc said Tuesday.

The baseball field was set to be grass, and the multipurpose field artificial turf, after a 3-2 vote by the selectmen in November.

At the time of that decision, some selectmen were concerned that an artificial turf field would be too expensive and hold back the project as the town searched for funds.


An artificial turf field would cost less in the long run, LeBlanc said Tuesday.

Building an artificial turf field would likely cost about $300,000 to $400,000 more than a grass field, LeBlanc said. But the estimated cost of maintenance over 30 years would be $1.7 million for artificial turf compared to $2.3 million for grass, according to estimates she provided.

Artificial turf fields are also becoming increasingly popular among youth athletes and coaches, officials said. Many Maine high schools now have artificial turf fields, Smith said.

LeBlanc and Brian Jones, athletic director at Skowhegan Area High School, said Tuesday that the players and coaches of the high school baseball team would prefer artificial turf over grass.

“Every single one of them that I spoke to had said turf,” LeBlanc said.

With plans in place to move the project along, the town will continue fundraising efforts for the remainder of the estimated $7 million total cost for the whole community center complex, LeBlanc said.

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