SKOWHEGAN — As it stands now, Skowhegan is millions of dollars short for the planned athletic complex expansion at its community center.

That’s the reality selectmen and residents confronted at a lengthy Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday that drew dozens of vocal members of the public.

“It seems like right now … that we don’t have money to do any of it,” Chairman Todd Smith said toward the end of the hour-and-a-half discussion.

Todd Smith Morning Sentinel file

Frustrations over the project, for which planning began in 2006, have been brewing among some residents and town officials in recent months, in part because the new facility is supposed to replace the previous homes of Skowhegan’s baseball and tennis teams at Memorial Field. Those teams are playing this spring without home facilities in town, after Memorial Field was sold to Maine School Administrative District 54 for its new elementary school.

The community center project at 39 Poulin Drive includes two sports fields, pickleball and tennis courts, a concession stand, new Little League field dugouts and a maintenance garage, among other infrastructure.

The most recent cost estimate was $7.5 million, but officials said they expect it to be higher — perhaps more than $10 million, or even $15 million. Even on the lower side of the estimate, Selectman Steven Govoni said, the town would still come up short.

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“We’re not just falling short by $2.5 million, we’re really falling short by almost $10 million,” said Govoni, who also runs the company contracted to oversee the project as a clerk of works.

Tuesday’s discussion came after the town’s Recreation Advisory Committee reviewed bids from contractors for the concession stand and dugouts, packaged together, as well as the maintenance garage.

Steve Govoni Morning Sentinel file

“The numbers that came back were a lot higher than what was originally anticipated, so the discussion became what could we afford to do now,” said Govoni, who also sits on that committee as a selectman representative.

The committee decided to set aside the maintenance garage for now, while starting other aspects, Govoni said.

The three bids for the concession stand and dugouts range from approximately $622,000 to $1.03 million, according to town records.

Some selectmen said they also thought those amounts would not be feasible based on funds currently available.

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“A $400,000 hot dog stand is a little out of the realm for Skowhegan, Maine,” Vice Chairman Charles Robbins said.

So far, the town has identified nearly $6 million from several sources of funding that could be used for different parts of the athletic complex: $1.9 million from selling Memorial Field to SAD 54, a $200,000 donation from New Balance, and more than $700,000 in a capital reserve account, according to Govoni.

Govoni said that the Recreation Advisory Committee, selectmen and town finance staff are taking time to review what funding the town has available to determine which aspects of the project to prioritize.

There appears to be about $700,000 that is used twice on different phases of the project’s budget, Govoni said.

Also at play is a federal grant that will reimburse half of $660,000 spent on the concession stand, dugouts and other infrastructure. That opportunity expires in fall 2025, according to records. Some recommended spending that money first to get the match as soon as possible and before that window closes.

There’s also a multimillion-dollar question: Skowhegan was awarded $3 million in Congressionally Directed Spending supported by Maine’s congressional delegation to use toward the project, but it is unclear how it can be used for the multipurpose and baseball fields.

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Dawn DiBlasi Morning Sentinel file

The funding application states the money must be used for “turf,” officials said. Town Manager Dawn DiBlasi, who started in the job May 6, said she contacted the office of Sen. Susan Collins and was told the field had to be artificial turf or the town would risk losing the $3 million.

At the same time, Jennifer Hight, a certified public accountant who was among the dozens of community members who turned out for Tuesday’s meeting, said she contacted U.S. Rep. Jared Golden’s office and was told that since the scope and location of the project are the same, there would be no issue with a grass field. Amendments to the funding application can also be submitted, Hight said.

Others argued that “turf” does not necessarily mean “artificial turf” and could refer to a natural grass surface.

At the April 23 meeting, selectmen voted 3-0, with two members absent, to change the planned surface of the baseball field from grass to artificial turf, in part due to fear of losing the funding and in the interest of moving the project forward quickly. That reversed a decision for the field to be grass made in November 2023.

At the April meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Denise LeBlanc presented figures that showed an artificial turf field would cost more to install but less in the long run to maintain.

Govoni and Robbins, who missed that meeting, took issue with that change because it was not a scheduled agenda item. They also disagreed with LeBlanc’s numbers.

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“The numbers that were presented on the 23rd make absolutely no sense,” Robbins said.

The artificial turf company likely was using an indoor field to develop its estimate for maintenance of artificial turf, Govoni said. And the same company may have made its estimate for grass maintenance higher by assuming desert-like conditions not seen in Skowhegan.

The fields have yet to go out for bid for a contractor. Selectmen said previously that they were aiming to approve sending that portion of the project out to bid at the board’s May 28 meeting.

In the meantime, it is not clear when selectmen will decide on a contractor for the concession stand and Little League field dugouts, which have received bids.

“I don’t think we have enough information right now,” Govoni said.

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