HAMPDEN, Maine — These are quiet times at most high schools in the state.
The Maine Principals’ Association mandates a two-week, hands-off period before the start of preseason practices for all fall sports in mid-August, meaning that all summer sports programs run through the schools have ended and the athletic facilities are largely empty.
That’s not the case at Hampden Academy, where workers from NET Sports Group of Saco are wrapping up an $850,000 project to replace the 14-year-old artificial turf and upgrade the lighting system on the all-purpose field behind the school.
The installation of new artificial turf panels began Tuesday, while new poles with LED lights are set to be erected Friday in advance of the Aug. 8 scheduled completion of the work. The project was funded through a local bond approved in February by RSU 22 voters from Hampden, Winterport, Newburgh and Frankfort.
When practices begin Monday, Aug. 13, Hampden Academy student-athletes participating in field hockey, football, and boys and girls soccer will take their turns breaking in the new surface.
“I was getting a little nervous about a week ago,” said Hampden Academy athletic administrator Fred Lower. “I had to stop going out to look because I don’t know anything about construction, and I’d say to myself, ‘Holy cow, we’re not anywhere close because we’ve got piles of gravel and dirt and bulldozers and all kinds of stuff, and the new turf hadn’t been delivered, and the light posts hadn’t been delivered, and the old turf was still rolled up and not taken away.’
“I’d talk with the Sargent Corporation guys who were doing the groundwork about how things were going and they’d say, ‘Great, we’re about four or five days away,’ and it would just shock me. But representatives from the different companies kept saying that once Sargent was done (Monday), it’s going to be fast-paced and it’s going to fly, and that’s been the case.”
Lower said plans for the new surface were designed with minimizing the number of lines required to accommodate the different sports.
In one example, the length of the soccer field will be extended from 110 yards to 120 yards, the maximum allowed by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
“We did that so the back of the football end zone and the endline of the soccer field are now the same line,” Lower said. “The previous field had a yellow line five yards into each end zone running across the field for the soccer endline.”
Among other changes, the home plate and pitching circle for softball will be made of artificial turf inlays instead of dirt, while the first- and third-base foul lines were adjusted to coincide with the soccer sideline a football/soccer endline.
“The softball home plate area was dirt, and we were constantly having to do maintenance, so we’ve eliminated that,” Lower said. “There’s a little less softball foul space now, but we wanted to eliminate distractions for players and clean up the look of the field.”
The turf will have “HA” imprinted at midfield with purple letters outlined in white.
Each five yards of the football surface will be an alternating shade of green to give the look of a mowed field, Lower said, with white football coaching box inlays on each side of the gridiron linked to purple players’ boxes.
The football end zones, green on the former turf, will be purple on the new surface. Football lines will be sewn on the field in white, with yellow soccer lines and purple field hockey lines.
“This field is going to be a lot more colorful but hopefully less distracting than the old one,” Lower said.
Once the turf is installed, a sand and rubber infill will be applied to create the field’s padding and softness.
Another task to be completed over the next week is an evening test of the new lights to ensure they provide adequate lighting to all areas of the field.
The first scheduled game use of the upgraded facility is the Northern Maine field hockey playday Aug. 18.
The field is used annually for as many as 90 athletic events, including Hampden Academy regular-season contests in numerous sports as well as regional and state championship events.
The field also is scheduled to host this year’s Big 11 Conference (Class C North) football championship game for the first time in mid-November.
But for Lower, it’s first things first.
“I’ll relax when it’s all done,” he said, “and even then I won’t relax because the day it’s supposed to be finished I’m headed to South Carolina to take my daughter back to college, so I’ll have the stress of being on the road down there and then making sure everything has come together here.”
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