PORTLAND, Maine — A Portland task force is recommending the city spend nearly $3.5 million over the next decade — including $1.4 million more on Fitzpatrick Stadium — to revamp the city’s athletic facilities. City councilors are skeptical.
The report from the task force was completed early this year and aimed to update a similar study issued in 2001. The latest report was presented to the Portland City Council on Monday by Councilor John Coyne, who chaired the panel responsible for drafting it.
But while many of the projects in the task force plan are rooted in an effort to make the playing fields more energy-efficient and resistant to wear and tear, councilors on Monday voiced skepticism the city could afford the renovations proposed.
Among the projects recommended to be undertaken by the city over the next three years are $900,000 in upgrades to the 6,300-seat Fitzpatrick Stadium, home to most Portland High School outdoor sports teams as well as a number of independent youth and adult sports programs. The plan includes $400,000 for a new energy-efficient computer-controlled lighting system and $500,000 for a replacement of the artificial turf surfacing installed as part of the 2001 renovation plan.
Another $500,000 is proposed to be spent on replacing the Fitzpatrick Stadium track with a “more durable polyurethane surface” in years five through 10 of the task force’s recommended strategy.
Fitzpatrick absorbed $1.9 million in city capital improvement funds in the aftermath of the 2001 task force report, as the stadium was given its first artificial turf surface and a rubberized treatment on its running track. Both surfaces are now in line to be upgraded or replaced.
In the 2011 report, the task force calls for more energy-efficient, computer-operated lighting systems to be installed over baseball and softball fields in Payson Park, Deering Oaks and Riverton — adding up to an estimated total of $700,000 in years three through five of the plan.
The committee also recommended surfacing improvements including new sod, drainage upgrades or irrigation systems on playing fields near Deering High, Lyman Moore Middle and Riverton Elementary schools, as well as Payson Park. Those projects, which combine for a total cost estimate of $445,000, are aimed to combat what the task force saw as overuse of the grass fields as sports participation increased since the 2001 report.
With the exception of five city-owned fields that were either resurfaced or had drainage system upgrades as part of the 2001 projects list, the task force reported, “the remaining fields do not get adequate rest and recovery time and are used constantly throughout the growing season.
“This overuse compacts the soil, stifles root growth and development; wears down the turf, stresses the grass and makes it more prone to disease and early dormancy,” the task force reported, in part. “Overuse also creates unsafe playing conditions because of the unevenness created … by divots, pockets and worn areas. Worn patches develop near heavily used areas in front of goals, down center lines and at outfield positions creating uneven fields.”
But while some city councilors on Monday acknowledged the value in undertaking some of the projects on the list, they balked at the price tags.
“We pass a plan, and I’d like to know how we’re going to fund it,” said Councilor Ed Suslovic.
At least one member of the public who spoke on the issue, Steven Scharf, called for fiscal restraint in the face of the task force recommendations.
“This is a long list of items to spend money on, and I recommend not spending money on any of it,” Scharf told the council.
Councilor John Anton suggested that the council consider the recommendations in a future workshop setting, where the athletic field projects could be compared to other capital improvement needs and the city’s long-term budget flexibility could be analyzed.
According to Coyne, the city spent more than $5.6 million on athletic facility upgrades and renovations in the decade since the 2001 task force report was issued, creating a precedent for prioritizing the city’s school and recreational assets.
Anton said that at the very least the council will be able to use the latest task force report for “technocratic prioritizing” moving forward. He suggested he may not argue in favor of expending city funds on any of the projects listed, but it’s still a good idea to know where the city’s needs are.
“The universe of our needs probably exceeds our ability to do all of these things,” Anton said. “As for what goes in the capital budget and what goes in the operational budget, that remains to be determined.”