Groundwork is a less glorious but foundational part of any outdoor construction project.
Such work now underway behind Orono High School is expected to lead to a new eight-lane, all-weather track and competition field for use by young student athletes and the community at large by the time the 2021-22 academic year begins in August.
“The complex doesn’t look very nice right now,” Orono athletic administrator Mike Archer said. “It’s kind of like renovating your kitchen, you just have to understand that things aren’t going to look good for a while, but I think when it’s all said and done it’s going to be really good.”
Renovations to the longtime home of the Red Riots’ football and track and field programs are being funded by part of a $16.8 million bond issue approved by voters in 2019. Work will include upgrades not only to the athletic complex but construction of a new auditorium and new classrooms, as well as numerous other improvements to Orono’s aging schools.
The track had degraded in recent years and became unusable for competition.
“Unfortunately, our old track was in rough shape, hence why we’re in the position we’re in and working to make it better,” RSU 26 facilities director Brent Fournier said. “People have still been out there using it. Especially given the coronavirus times, people wanted to be outside, socially distanced and getting some exercise.
“Being able to provide a brand new facility to use, I think the community’s really going to embrace and appreciate that.”
When the project is completed, walkers as well as Orono’s track teams and other running enthusiasts will have an eight-lane “fat” track that will be slightly wider than the more oval track it is replacing.
“It’s going to look like our ‘O,’ a maroon-colored track, along with new jumping pits, pole vault and high jump areas all fenced in with a paved walkway all the way around the track so fans can stand comfortably,” Archer said.
The track will surround a new, natural-grass competition field that will be the home field for the football program and also be available to host events in other sports, including soccer.
“We’re laying down new sod in the middle but with the specs [of the ‘fat’ track] if we ever wanted to go to artificial turf we wouldn’t have to change the dimensions of our track,” Archer said. “All we’d have to do is tear out the sod and put in the new material.”
Plans for new LED lights to be installed on the existing poles could provide opportunities to add some evening soccer matches as well as hosting postseason matches after school in the fall when the sun sets earlier.
A new main grandstand with an integrated press box will be installed on the home side of the field, and Archer said the current home grandstand will be moved to the other side of the field to increase seating for visiting team supporters.
“These facilities are used widely every day by our middle school, our high school and the community, so it doesn’t take long for them to break down,” Archer said. “We drastically needed these changes.”
One of the related projects already finished is the conversion of a former practice field into approximately 85 additional parking spaces behind the high school, along with new LED lighting in the parking area.
Orono also has completed another athletics complex project not related to the bond issue with the construction of a new block-wall backstop for the nearby baseball field along with new fencing and netting.
That improvement was funded by a donation made in honor of former Orono High School coach Wally Covell. Upon his death in 2017, the family established The Wally Covell Legacy Fund to support Orono High School athletics.
“A fund was set up in his memory and a lot of his former players donated to that fund and they used that money to build us a brand-new backstop,” Archer said. “It’s beautiful.”