BANGOR — When Garland Street Field was built in 1944, it was a state-of-the-art facility that served the needs not only of local athletes but those from far beyond the city limits.
It routinely was home to regional and state championship competitions — and even hosted a National Football League exhibition game between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers in 1959.
But what once was a source of community pride is now 66 years old.
Bangor superintendent of schools Betsy Webb soon hopes to give the facility (now called Cameron Stadium) new life. She announced Wednesday a campaign to raise $7 million over the next three years in order to have a new multipurpose facility built in five years that would serve Bangor teams and city residents of all ages as well as bringing high school regional and state championship events back to the Queen City.
Cracks are numerous in the foundation of the main grandstand. Light poles installed in 1948 now are showing their age, another victim of enduring more than six decades of Maine weather.
Handicapped accessibility to the field and grandstand are another issue, and there are just two restroom stalls for women.
Players must make their way through the crowds both before and after games to get from the field to their locker rooms, and those locker rooms feature gang showers and 21-year-old carpeting.
So the championship events that once were held routinely in Bangor have found new homes for at least the past decade, according to Bangor athletic administrator Steve Vanidestine, and the facility, operated by the Bangor School Department and renamed in 1982 as J. Henry “Hank” Cameron Stadium in honor of the former principal of the nearby William F. Cohen School, has continued to deteriorate.
“It’s tired,” said Webb. “It’s done a great job, but it’s tired.”
“It’s long overdue for a complete renovation, but I think it should be noted that the Bangor taxpayers made an incredible investment back in 1944,” she said. “They’ve gotten every penny — and probably five times over — out of this facility. To me, it is the essence of who we are as a community. There’s nothing better than a Friday night under the lights with the cheerleaders and (football) players and the sense of community that goes with it. What a healthy way for people to grow up in our city.”
Plans for the renovated facility include an artificial-turf, multisport field lined for football, soccer and field hockey, as well as a new home grandstand with seating for 6,000, a modern press box, elevator, concession stands and a locker-room complex featuring four locker rooms with individual showers, coaches’ rooms and training rooms. Players would enter the locker rooms directly from the field through tunnels at the front of the grandstand.
There also would be seating for 3,000 visiting team fans, compared to the current 200 seats on that side of the field.
The current six-lane track would be expanded to eight lanes, enabling the facility to host major track meets again, as well as new lighting around the field.
“One thing that impresses me about this plan is that it aligns with our goal of excellence,” said Vanidestine. “Everything we do, we’re very interested in doing very well.”
Webb presented her plan to the Bangor school committee Wednesday evening.
“It really helps that the superintendent and school committee’s leadership is there on this,” said Vanidestine. “It’s huge, because it’s something we need.”
Local residents John Simpson and Kevin Griffin have volunteered to help organize a Friends of Cameron Stadium fundraising group.
“When Betsy told me about this project, I thought it had a lot of merit,” said Simpson, a Bangor High School graduate.
Webb said renderings of the plans developed by local architect Gary Frost soon will be put on the school department’s website, as well as a form for anyone interested in being involved with the project.
“The next steps for us will be to organize the friends group, have a board of directors, acquire the 501(c)(3) status to be a nonprofit and to design a fundraising campaign,” she said. “We at this point are really looking for community members who want to support us and be a part of this.”
The fundraising campaign will seek out private donations large and small as well as in-kind contributions.
“Our goal is to have this as something the whole community would be able to support,” said Webb. “If you think about fundraising, it’s important that you have large donors, but also it’s important to have a sense of community where everybody is a part of it.”
Webb said she also would pursue any applicable grant opportunities, such as those related to the track’s potential health benefits for the community at large as well as the facility’s potential to boost the local economy when it hosts events ranging from state championship games to the Special Olympics and the Hershey’s regional track and field meet.
“This was the premier site at one point, where we hosted everything,” said Webb. “Unfortunately no one’s asking anymore because we don’t have the facilities that would meet those needs. It’s also thinking about economic development and being able to draw those championship events and those people here. When you think about three classes of football with six teams, four classes of soccer with all those teams, or field hockey or track, a lot of people come into the community and use the restaurants, the hotels, the mall, maybe even go to Hollywood Slots, and all of that is a plus to us, so we really want to be a part of that.”
Webb said the effort also is consistent with school department’s current 10-year strategic plan, “Academic Excellence for All.”
“We know the importance of academic excellence and the connection of being involved in athletics,” she said. “Being part of something like that is a life skill, but when we’re not providing excellence in facilities, I think that’s concerning because it’s not sending them the message that we want them to hear.”
The project ultimately could be done in phases depending on the pace of fundraising efforts, but both Webb and Vanidestine are optimistic the effort will be successful.
“This is going to happen,” said Webb. “We’re going to make this happen.”