Selectmen vote against formal acceptance of BRAG fields

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

It’s going on 10 years since Bridgton residents overwhelmingly agreed, 1,400 to 788, to take over ownership of the Bridgton Recreational Advancement Group ballfields, once phase one improvements were complete. Over the past nine months, the Board of Selectmen and BRAG volunteers have been actively working on a Memorandum of Understanding detailing the terms for the transfer of ownership.

Yet on Tuesday, after a contentious debate, Selectmen voted to table the MOU and voted against formal acceptance of the fields, known as the Kendal and Anna Ham Recreation Complex, by the town. Selectmen Paul Hoyt and Bob McHatton were in favor of taking over the fields, while Selectmen Ken Murphy, Bernie King and Greg Watkins were opposed.

McHatton fought back with a motion to take the question directly to voters at the Wednesday, June 16 Town Meeting, but his motion failed with Murphy, King and Watkins opposed.

The only question to survive the opposition was a Town Meeting article asking if Home Run Road should be made a public road. That question will remain on the warrant, because it came as a request by the property owners who live on the road.

Less certain is the status of the $103,000 in the warrant that was budgeted for public works maintenance of the fields. That amount of money, which presumed town ownership, will likely now be reduced when the board takes action to finalize the warrant at its next meeting on May 10. Watkins had moved to cut that amount to $50,000, but his motion failed by the same 2–3 split vote.

Watkins was the most forceful in arguing that the fields were still not complete, especially in terms of drainage work on the large multipurpose field and the unnamed softball field. BRAG Board President Bill Macdonald acknowledged as much in an April 25 e-mail to Town Manager Bob Peabody.

“BRAG fully intends to complete this project as soon as funds are available,” Peabody said, quoting from the e-mail of Macdonald, who was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting. McHatton suggested that a condition could be attached to the MOU, requiring that BRAG be responsible for completing a town-approved drainage plan. Peabody said Code Enforcement Officer Robbie Baker said an underdrain pipe was not installed as required when the fields received site plan approval by the Planning Board.

Watkins also had doubts on whether the board had acted properly in meeting the wishes of voters when they entered into negotiations on taking over Home Run Road, which would be the preferred access to the complex over BRAG Way because it will cost less to make improvements. He also wanted more details about the section in the MOU regarding the “Continuing Role of BRAG” after the town takes it over. BRAG has promised in the MOU to raise funds to construct a septic system and concession stand, followed by tennis courts, basketball courts and a playground. What if the town doesn’t like the plans BRAG comes up with for those amenities, he asked.

“The town needs to be solid on what the status is” regarding unanswered questions about the fields, Watkins said. “When I buy a car ‘as is,’ I’d like to know what ‘as is’ means.”

Hoyt countered that all unanswered questions could be resolved in the next two months until the Town Meeting. “We have two months to ask all the questions you need to ask, and have them answered, and then let the voters decide,” Hoyt said. McHatton noted that since 400 children are currently using the fields, the time has come for the town to commit to ownership.

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