BRAG fields need town help

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton Selectmen agreed Tuesday to allow the Bridgton Recreation Advancement Group to use $30,000 in budgeted set-aside funds to improve the Kendal and Anna Ham Recreation Complex. The money will be used to improve the complex’s ballfields and help construct a concession building with restrooms and a press box.

The BRAG request for release of funding sparked a discussion of what more needs to be done at the complex before the town will be willing to take over ownership. Selectman Bob McHatton said he believes it is time for the town “to become more of a working partner” with BRAG, in particular to provide support for maintenance of the fields.

“We should take over those fields now,” McHatton said. “It would free them up” to focus on construction projects such as the concession building, he said, adding that the town’s Public Works Department could provide the proper equipment needed for field maintenance and growing a proper grass cover.

McHatton said that only by providing field maintenance support can the town realistically expect to be getting a “turnkey operation” when the official transfer of ownership takes place. He added later that the takeover “may not be for another year or so.”

Town Manager Bob Peabody said he, McHatton and Hoyt have met with BRAG officials about drawing up a Memorandum of Understanding that would clearly define how any funds provided by the town would be used. “We would become the owner in fee,” Peabody said.

“The fields are (the project asset) that we have to make sure of,” added Hoyt, who said BRAG’s efforts to build a town-wide recreation complex in town date back 17 years.

A big question yet to be answered is whether the town is willing to pay the added costs, in both equipment and staffing, to bring the fields up to tournament-level play. The Ham Complex served as the host site this spring for the New England Regional Cal Ripken Baseball Tournament, and has played host to Challenger Sports to bring a world-class soccer camp to Bridgton for the third year in a row.

In an Aug. 23 letter to the board, BRAG President Bill Macdonald said keeping up with maintenance costs “has put a damper on our ability to continue with construction.” The $30,000 will be used to fertilize, repair irrigation lines, seed, aerate, repair fencing and help construct the concession building, Macdonald said.

Peabody said the town would need to hire at least one full-time person and perhaps a second person part-time to take care of summer field maintenance.

“If we do it, we will be in a far better position, five or 10 years down the road,” Peabody said.

Public Works Director Jim Kidder said there are areas of uneven ground on the fields that need to be addressed. “If we go after tournaments, they expect a different level of maintenance and field conditions” that currently exist at the complex, he said. “Instead of spending money on fertilizer, we need to get the fields top-dressed. And that machine costs money.”

Selectman Chairman Bernie King suggested the board hold a workshop with people who have knowledge of playing field maintenance. Another meeting with BRAG officials is planned for Sept. 17, and after the board hears an update it can decide how to proceed.

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