Cameron Stadium renovations set to begin; Bangor, John Bapst football teams to juggle schedules this fall

The main grandstand at J. Henry “Hank” Cameron Stadium will be torn down this week as part of a two-phase effort to renovate the Bangor facility.
John Clarke Russ | BDN
The main grandstand at J. Henry “Hank” Cameron Stadium will be torn down this week as part of a two-phase effort to renovate the Bangor facility. Buy Photo
Posted July 15, 2013, at 8:42 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The recent demolition of the Bangor Auditorium marked the demise of one of Eastern Maine’s iconic venues for sporting events and other activities.

Later this week, a perhaps lesser regaled but still consequential structure in the region’s sporting history faces a similar fate.

Plans call for the demolition of the main grandstand at J. Henry “Hank” Cameron Stadium as the first noticeable sign of a two-phase effort to renovate a facility that has hosted its own share of high-profile events ranging from high school track and field and football championships to a 1959 NFL exhibition game between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers, the only such contest to ever take place in Maine.

Demolition was scheduled to begin Monday but was pushed back to allow time for the removal of asbestos that was found encased in a boiler room that once heated the locker rooms and restrooms located underneath the 69-year-old grandstand, according to Alan Kochis, director of business services for the Bangor School Department.

Once the asbestos is removed, demolition can begin — possibly as soon as Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning, he added.

This is the initial step in a $4 million effort to restore a multisport facility operated by the school department that currently is home to the Bangor and John Bapst of Bangor football programs, Bangor Youth Football, other school sports teams and numerous track and field events.

Supporters of the renovations — which during a yet-to-be-scheduled second phase would include the installation of an artificial-turf field and the expansion of the track surrounding the field from six to eight lanes — also hope the stadium eventually can regain its status as a viable host site for various state and regional high school championship events.

The current plan is a scaled-down version of a $7 million capital campaign announced in late 2010 by Bangor superintendent of schools Betsy Webb.

“The original plan for $7 million called for building a 6,000-seat facility there,” said Kochis. “But with the economy being the way it is, we took a second look and realized we probably could not afford that big a project and probably there were parts of it that weren’t needed.”

The $1.65 million first phase of the project is being funded through a $1.2 million bond approved by the Bangor City Council in late May, an already established Cameron Stadium contingency fund and money raised by The Friends of Cameron Stadium nonprofit group.

That first phase will address a variety of health and safety issues that have plagued the aging structure in recent years.

Cracks are numerous in the foundation of the grandstand, which also has become increasingly treacherous to walk upon on rainy game nights. Handicapped accessibility to the field and grandstand also is limited, and just two working restroom stalls are available for women.

In addition, light poles installed in 1948 have shown their age, as has the facility’s entire electrical system.

In one 2011 incident, some of the facility’s underground wires that had shifted over time because of frost and erosion became mingled with the fencing, giving at least one visiting fan from Lawrence High School in Fairfield who was leaning against part of the fence around the football field a modest shock, which was reported to stadium officials.

Earlier that year, a varsity game between John Bapst of Bangor and Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln had to be suspended and completed the next day when the power went out at the stadium.

“Cameron has a lot of health and safety issues that need to be addressed,” said Kochis. “We’ve tried to fast-track this a little bit.”

Kochis said plans call for bleacher seating for 2,800 fans with a press box to replace the existing grandstand, with its installation to be completed no later than Sept. 13.

The bleachers will be situated between the two 15-yard lines on the football field and elevated slightly from ground level in order for fans to see over game participants standing on the near sideline. The bleachers also will be located 11 feet farther back from the field than the grandstand to allow space for adding two more lanes to the track that now separates the field from the grandstand during the second phase of the project.

The new lighting system will require fewer light poles than now are used but will be more efficient, with 12 lights per pole focused more directly on the field, Kochis said. The new system also will save approximately $20,000 per year in demand fees, as it will be linked to the William S. Cohen School next to the stadium rather than connected to the power grid separately.

But the new lights aren’t expected to be ready until October because of a 12-week wait until transformers that have been ordered arrive, which means some schedule juggling for two of the primary users of the facility this fall, the Bangor and John Bapst varsity football teams.

Bangor High School, which traditionally plays Friday night home games, is likely to play most if not all its home games this season on Saturday afternoons, according to athletic administrator Steve Vanidestine.

“We’re looking to play on Saturday afternoon provided we have bleacher safety,” he said. “I’ve talked with coach [Mark] Hackett and Mrs. Webb, and we feel like we’d like to play at home if we can.”

Uncertain at this point is how Bangor will handle a home preseason game against Lawrence of Fairfield scheduled for Aug. 30 and the Rams’ regular-season opener against Edward Little of Auburn slated for Sept. 6 because the new bleachers are not scheduled to be in place in time for either of those contests.

Options include moving the Lawrence game to Fairfield and then hosting the Bulldogs in a preseason game at Bangor next August, or playing either or both of the games in question at Husson University in Bangor.

“I’ve reached out to Husson as a Plan B,” said Vanidestine.

John Bapst athletic administrator Rick Sinclair said his school also has had talks with Husson officials about playing three of its four home games on Friday nights at the Winkin Complex on campus.

Sinclair said his school hopes to play its fourth regular-season home game, the Crusaders’ homecoming contest against Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield, as scheduled on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 5, at Cameron Stadium.

With no locker room facilities at Cameron Stadium this fall, Vanidestine also is exploring options for providing facilities for participating teams to change before and after games. He said the Bangor squad is likely to change at the high school and bus to and from the stadium, while options for visiting teams may include changing at the high school or in the Cohen School gymnasium.

Kochis said as much work will be done toward completing the new locker room/restroom building this year as current funding will allow, with portable toilets to be used for events at the stadium this fall.

He also stressed that the existing track will be available for local walkers and runners to use as normal throughout the first phase of the construction project.

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