Last spring, the University of Maine Campus Recreation Department approached Orono Parks and Recreation in hopes of proposing a collaborative softball field complex to the UMaine Planning Committee.
“In the last three to four years we’ve seen a tremendous increase in the need for more softball facilities because of growing participation in teams,” said Norman Poirier, director of Orono’s Parks and Recreation Department. “Even right now, with three youth teams and an instructional program, another team will have to be added to accommodate everyone.”
Currently, the university has one competitive softball field and one recreational field, and Orono has one field located at the town’s high school. Middle school teams, high school varsity and junior varsity teams, adult leagues, and youth leagues use the one high school softball field, while an increasing demand grows for more teams.
Poirier said he is also concerned about an adult co-ed softball league that runs from June to July, which is currently constricted to eight teams of 18 players because of field space.
With such overwhelming local interest in the sport, sharing one field among various teams has led to difficult time compromises and constraints. Many times, the Orono recreation department is forced to turn away teams and refer them to Bangor. Referring to outside areas poses problems for the rapidly growing group of players, mainly 9 to15 year olds, who rely on working parents for transportation, according to Kenda Scheele, director of Campus Recreation, the department that originally thought of the idea.
“Having the softball field in such a close proximity to home, school, and particularly the town recreation headquarters is the biggest reason for the location choice,” she said.
The proposed location is on Park Street, where there are open fields across from Bangor Savings Bank and across from the nightclub Ushuaia.
After proposing the idea of a joint project between the university and the town, the University Planning Committee decided to table the project until a response was heard from the student body. An open forum was held on Oct. 21, and more are scheduled to follow.
Vice President for Administration Janet Waldron, also the chair of the UMaine Planning Committee, emphasized the importance of student understanding and input on issues concerning the campus.
“I believe it’s important for faculty, staff and students to be aware of what’s happening, and to be able to voice whether they agree with it or not,” she said.
At this beginning stage of the project, the student body may address how the project will be funded. Some students said they would not support the project if it means an increase in tuition or added fees.
“Since it doesn’t seem these fields will be primarily for us college students, I wouldn’t want to have to pay for it out of my pocket,” said first-year student Whitney Lehman, who attended the open forum last month.
The proposal aims to have the town of Orono use municipal grants unavailable to the university, while UMaine maintains ownership of the property and allows public use of the fields. The only costs the university would take on would be for maintenance, which have not been determined yet.
Until more forums are held and more ideas presented, the proposal must make it through additional planning stages before construction begins.
“This is something we’re looking at for the future. Right now, we’re still in the conceptual framework,” Waldron said.